Just to clarify a few things about my old hometown of Reseda: There are no freeways running through yards, no Terminators saying “Hasta la vista, baby,” and no one will teach you karate by washing a car. But Reseda does have some lessons about how public involvement can benefit a community. This is especially important for my current hometown, Lake Forest.
I was attracted to Lake Forest because it reminded me of what Reseda was like when I was growing up. It’s a quiet, Southern California suburb with clean, safe neighborhoods, quality schools, and community involvement. Just like my mom got involved in her community, I got involved in mine through Little League and Toastmasters.
But community involvement in Lake Forest didn’t stop at the PTA and youth sports level. Community involvement went all the way up through city government. Our former mayor, Mark Tettemer, was someone from our neighborhood. Our kids went to school and played baseball together. I even saw him at a Carl’s Jr. near my work. (Can you imagine chatting with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti over Western Bacon Cheeseburgers?) Lake Forest even encourages people from the community to get involved in local government through its Leadership Academy. I attended in 2008 shortly after I became Little League president. I was proud to be a part of a community that not only welcomed my involvement, it encouraged it.
While things were looking up in Lake Forest, things weren’t going so well for my old hometown. Businesses left and neighborhoods declined. The biggest sign of Reseda’s woes is its landmark movie theater that has been abandoned since 1988. (We had abandoned movie theaters in Lake Forest too, but we either torn them down and built something new or turned them into gyms.) Things had gotten so bad that when the 1994 earthquake hit, it was called the Northridge Earthquake even though the epicenter was in Reseda. You can tell your town is in trouble when even a killer earthquake doesn’t want to be associated with it.
But in the last two years, the two communities have switched direction.
Since Reseda’s centennial celebration last year, a community group called the Reseda Neighborhood Council has initiated a number of projects to encourage development and community pride. They started a “Spend $25 on the 25th” to support local businesses and launched the Reseda Renaissance to make the community a hub for art and music. They organize weekly bike rides. Even the front of the empty theater was painted so it looks nicer. They’ve taken to social media to promote their efforts to current and former Reseda residents. I can see the progress and the pride growing in my old hometown.
And as for Lake Forest? City elections last year have led to a divided city council. The recently elected members have been accused of being bankrolled by an outside developer, and then voted to support that developer converting an abandoned auto mall into a housing complex. These new council members were also criticized for choosing someone for the planning commission who was less experienced over a more experienced candidate. I see this as bad news for a city that prided itself in being well run and community focused. Now, we don’t even know what part of Orange County we belong to.
So what can Reseda teach Lake Forest? It’s a lesson my mom taught me as a Reseda resident years ago: The importance of community involvement.
You can’t mark a ballot and hope for the best. You have to keep your elected officials accountable, and that is already happening in Lake Forest. More than that, you have to get involved. Government doesn’t shop at local businesses. You do. Government doesn’t coach youth sports teams or work as classroom aides so that teachers can spend more time with your kids. You do. Government doesn’t always know what services are needed and where money should be invested in the community. You do.
When you get involved in a community, you make a noticeable improvement to its quality of life. You build civic pride because you feel invested in your hometown, and you encourage others to do the same. Sitting around and blaming politicians won’t make a community better. You need to step up and do your part. This is what Reseda is doing and Lake Forest and all communities need to do.