After more than 20 years in city government, including nearly 10 as a City Councilmember, Mitch O’Farrell is leaving City Hall. Today is his last day.
“First, I’m going to take a vacation, then I’m going to figure out what I want to do in the private sector,” O’Farrell told the Buzz when we met last week. He said he would miss completing some of the work he started, but as soon as the election results came in, he said he began planning the transition to his successor, Hugo Soto-Martinez, a newcomer with no experience in City Hall.
O’Farrell told us he is most proud of his efforts to help create the Hollywood Walk of Fame Master Plan, and implementation of the streetscape parts of the plan will start this summer.
“Hollywood Boulevard really is the city’s boulevard,” said O’Farrell. “People around the world come to see Hollywood Blvd., they don’t come to see Grand Avenue or Wilshire Boulevard, and it deserves to be improved; it should be a world class street. I am hopeful the new leadership in the district and the city will continue the implementation of the plan.”
O’Farrell is also thrilled to have built four bridges over the Los Angeles River during his tenure, and creating the Silver Lake Reservoir Master Plan. He said he really enjoyed working in the intersection of planning and building community consensus for projects that serve a variety of constituencies and improve neighborhoods.
“I have always been “of” the neighborhood,” said O’Farrell, meaning he likes to examine a situation from the perspective of how it affects the people who live in the neighborhood.
“Neighborhood identity matters,” he explained. “It encourages pride, which is really important. People want to feel good about where they live.”
Throughout his years in city government, O’Farrell has worked on many efforts to create public space where communities can gather. He told us about working with a developer to create a 7,000 square foot senior community center as part of large project when he worked as an aide to then-City Councilmember Eric Garcetti. In fact, being part of a neighborhood action against a project, he said, got him involved and sparked his desire to work in city government. Over the years, O’Farrell said he has worked with many community groups and developers to create projects that wouldn’t not have happened otherwise, like tearing down a former drug house run by gangs and installing a community garden for the neighborhood.
“I’ve always been drawn to neighborhood solutions where everyone sits down and works out a compromise to solve the problem and move things forward,” said O’Farrell. Despite the criticism from some quarters of his handling of a homeless encampment at Echo Park, O’Farrell said he was proud of the effort and would do it again, because he doesn’t believe there was any other solution.
“We had to return the park to the community, to the families who stopped going there because it became unsafe,” he said. When we asked about the lack of housing for the homeless people who were moved, O’Farrell said that was the responsibility of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, not his office. He said the Echo Park cleanup paved the way for other actions across the city, including a similar effort at Venice Beach.
While O’Farrell was in office for nine and a half years, the Larchmont area was only recently added to O’Farrell’s district last year when city council district lines were re-drawn.
“I was very excited to get Larchmont Village and Windsor Square as part of my district,” said O’Farrell. “I love the historic nature of the neighborhoods and I have deep roots here.” When he first moved to Los Angeles, O’Farrell said he lived close by, in the Citrus Square neighborhood near Beverly and Sycamore.
Over the past year, O’Farrell and his Field Deputy George Hakopiants have left their mark on Larchmont. Most visible are the new bistro lights crisscrossing Larchmont Blvd., which O’Farrell’s office supported and for which he provided a grant of just under $5,000. In addition, after months of waiting, Hakopiants got the numbers repainted in Larchmont Blvd.’s city parking lot, and added way-finding parking signs for Larchmont Blvd.
O’Farrell said he’s leaving office without any regrets, but he does have some worries. He told us he’s concerned the City Council is losing its center and becoming more fractured with the election of several council members, including his successor, that are backed by groups on the extreme left. Practically speaking, he said, there isn’t much of a right wing in the largely progressive but non-partisan city council. O’Farrell believes the best solution to making Los Angeles a better city will come from collaboration and compromise.
“Most people want similar things for their neighborhoods, not matter what the income level,” said O’Farrell. “If someone starts out saying there will be winners and losers, that’s already on the wrong foot. Solutions shouldn’t be so limited that one group feels they are losing something so the other group can win. That’s too limiting. Everyone wants safe, clean, livable neighborhoods.”
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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