The Buzz has covered many candidate forums during the current election cycle, but for the race for 51st State Assembly District, two local residents offered to write about their own personal support for a particular candidate, so we invited them to speak. Guest writer Tony Gittelson offers his views of Louis Abramson, and fellow guest writer Julie Stromberg provides her perspective on Rick Chavez Zbur. (The pieces are presented in alphabetical order by both candidate and author. They are provided for information only, and are not meant to imply any sort of Buzz endorsement for either candidate.)
Louis Abramson – Astrophysicist and Community Organizer
by Tony Gittleson
When Louis Abramson isn’t canvassing door-to-door as a candidate for State Assembly, he is working one-on-one with people who live on the streets, trying to get them safely housed and to get them the services they urgently need. As a research scientist, and a leader in Los Angeles’s fight to end homelessness, he understands California’s most pressing problems intimately, not abstractly. In a recent talk, Louis said this:
“We don’t have time for bad government. Our planet is warming. Our neighbors are dying in tents on the sidewalk. Six million Californians can’t save or start a family because rent takes half their pay. People struggling with mental illness are being left isolated, unhoused, and disconnected despite us knowing—with scientific certainty—that community and connection are the key to their recovery. California builds space telescopes. It powers the economy. It feeds the planet. We can do BETTER than this, and we will.”
Within two minutes of my first conversation with Louis Abramson, I was thoroughly impressed. Louis is an astrophysicist with a PhD from the University of Chicago. He came to Los Angeles planning to teach, to study the oldest light in the universe, to understand our origins: how galaxies are formed. Those remarkable first images from the James Webb Deep Space Telescope? They came from a science proposal designed by a team that Louis led at UCLA. There is no one in the State Assembly who can make a similar claim. In fact, when elected, Louis will be the only scientist in the California legislature. Let me explain why that’s so important.
Understanding the stars is the passion that brought Louis to California. As an academic, living in a modest rental apartment in Hollywood, his life took a dramatic turn when the growing number of people living on the street motivated him to run for, and handily win, a seat on the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, where he now chairs the Homeless and Housing Committee. During the pandemic, working mainly from home, he saw the devastation that the homeless crisis and the pandemic were wreaking right on his block. His conscience wouldn’t allow him to walk past it. He knew, with his fine, science-and-data driven mind, he could help find solutions. He immediately got to work. Organizing his Hollywood community, Louis devised an emergency program to get 32,000 lbs of fresh produce to at-risk, homebound seniors. The nonprofit that grew out of their relief work, The Hollywood Harvest, was named one of Assembly District 50’s Best Nonprofits of 2021 by Assemblymember Richard Bloom.
Louis did not stop there. In 2021, when LA County was unable to conduct its annual homeless count–a critical tool for distributing resources to the unhoused community–Louis saw a way forward. Using the same analytical tools he uses in his astronomical work, he devised a safe, more accurate way to conduct the count. By bringing together the business community, non-profit organizations, and local elected officials, he helped Hollywood gather the data it needed to move forward. In fact, the organization he helped found is called Hollywood4wrd, and it is leading the way in coming up with innovative and collaborative solutions to LA’s homelessness crisis.
Louis is not a career politician. Before he began serving the people in his neighborhood, he had no idea his life would lead him away from exploring the farthest reaches of our universe to problem-solving right in his own backyard. Louis discovered his true calling is here on Earth, tackling so many of the urgent, existential problems we face, from homelessness to climate change. The same tools and expertise he used as a scientist, make him the problem-solver we need in Sacramento. I feel so grateful Louis has decided to run for State Assembly. We need someone with his ability to study big problems in granular detail–whether it’s the origins of the universe, or how to get the homeless housed–and take action informed by facts.
Before beginning his campaign, in his final lecture to his fellow astronomers at UCLA and the Carnegie Observatory, Louis ended his sophisticated talk (literally on the origins of the universe) with an unexpected twist: he showed slides demonstrating how he had applied his analytic work to problem-solving homelessness in Hollywood. His closing words to his colleagues were, “As you look up, don’t forget to look around you.” For me, that describes everything you need to know about Louis Abramson. He looked around, saw intractable problems among his unhoused neighbors, and threw himself into the work of solving them.
Which brings me back to my first conversation with Louis. I am very engaged in the housing crisis as one of the authors of The Livable Communities Initiative, an affordable housing solution that is currently before the City Council. “You really should talk to Louis Abramson,” a friend told me, “he’s this ‘rocket scientist’ doing a lot of homeless outreach in Hollywood.” I was intrigued. What was supposed to be a short introductory conversation lasted over an hour.
I knew immediately Louis was brilliant, but what really struck me was his unerring moral compass. More than anything, Louis is decent and kind and deeply compassionate. He is running for State Assembly, not for his personal glory–it is grueling, and there are many things he could be doing–but because he has so much to offer the people of Assembly District 51, and the people of our city. I can’t imagine a better, finer, more selfless person to represent us in the State Assembly than Louis Abramson. I will be canvassing for Louis from now until election day. I hope the next door I knock on is yours.
Rick Chavez Zbur – Experienced Leadership for Equality, the Environment, and More
by Julie Stromberg
Rick Chavez Zbur is the leader we need in the State Assembly. I first met Rick nearly 15 years ago when he was an environmental law partner at Latham & Watkins and had become a mentor to my husband, who was fresh out of law school and learning the ropes. As I got to know Rick over the years, he became a friend whom I greatly admire, and I have been inspired by his many accomplishments and commitment to public service and helping those less fortunate than him.
When Rick decided to retire from his successful career at Latham & Watkins, he went on to rehabilitate and transform a struggling statewide non-profit organization—Equality California (EQCA)—into a leading civil rights organization advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. His leadership at EQCA was transformative.
When Rick initially took the helm at EQCA, the organization’s main focus was on same sex marriage rights. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Rick was able to pivot the organization to focus on a wide range of advocacy efforts addressing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, such as school bullying, healthcare, immigrant rights, and rights of communities of color and faith. He took his advocacy and leadership skills and passion for civil rights to the next level by leading EQCA’s lawsuit against the Trump Administration, successfully challenging President Trump’s directive banning transgender people from enlisting or openly serving in the military and denying them medically necessary healthcare. Under Rick’s leadership, EQCA launched first in the nation programs aimed at assuring that our schools are safe and supportive for all kids. During the COVID pandemic, Equality California launched a help center with counselors who assisted all members of our community who needed housing, healthcare, food, and help applying for unemployment and other government benefits.
Rick’s compelling leadership spurred me to join the EQCA Board of Advisors, and I had the honor to serve for many years as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community in that capacity. Rick has inspired me and continues to inspire me in so many ways, and I am proud to support him for State Assembly.
Rick Has a Demonstrated Track Record of Success
In addition to his transformative work with EQCA, Rick has been a longtime advocate for our environment. As one of the most respected environmental and government lawyers in California, he has a record of fighting for communities most impacted by pollution and climate change. As President of the Board of the California League of Conservation Voters, now renamed as California Environmental Voters, Rick helped shape the organization’s priorities to address environmental justice with a focus on our most vulnerable communities, and to advance sustainable housing and green job programs to address climate change. As such, he has a demonstrable record of successful environmental activism. As an environmentalist, long time climate advocate, and parent of three young children, this is one of the primary qualities that I look for in endorsing a candidate. I know that Rick has a deep understanding of the complex legal and policy landscape and is prepared on day one to advance bold climate action in the legislature.
Rick is also a feminist and is continually fighting for pro-choice and reproductive rights. In California, we take for granted our state’s progressive stance on reproductive rights, but as we saw with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, reproductive rights are always at risk. It is unconscionable to me that my daughter and I could be stripped of our bodily autonomy. As a member of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and chair of its legal committee, Rick has been on the front lines protecting abortion rights and reproductive healthcare. He is endorsed by Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project LA County Action Fund.
Rick will demonstrate the same leadership and passion to achieve solutions to housing and homelessness issues. As a long-time environmental and land use attorney, he knows how the system works and is more than familiar with its flaws. His experience in this area will be critical in making meaningful progress to addressing the crisis of homelessness and housing, that is both compassionate and that respects the livability of our neighborhoods.
Further, Rick’s platform also focuses on crime and safety. As Executive Director of EQCA, Rick worked to reform our criminal justice laws to reduce discriminatory sentencing and reform California’s HIV criminal laws. While Rick was head of EQCA, it became the first major LGBTQ+ organization in the nation to advocate for gun safety laws that are key in reducing crime in our region. In the Assembly, Rick will advance legislation that limits access to guns by those living with mental illness or a history of violent behavior, improve background checks and increase waiting periods, and take military grade weapons off our streets. He knows what it is necessary to improve our quality of life.
Rick’s Comprehensive Progressive Values Are Needed in the Legislature
Rick’s platform is a culmination of his legal experience, non-profit advocacy, and life lessons. For example, one of Rick’s top priorities is healthcare reform. Rick’s healthcare platform is rooted in his experience caring for his ill and dying sister and his elderly mother. Through his sister’s experience, Rick witnessed first-hand the shortcomings of our healthcare system, including not only on how broken it is, but how it abandons our must vulnerable community members. There are not enough legislators focusing on reforming our healthcare system.
We need someone in the legislature who is not a singular issue candidate — there is far too much at stake to be operating in an issue silo. We are supposed to leave the world in a better place than we found it. Instead, on the present course we risk robbing our children of their future. Rick is the candidate that has worked for decades on climate change, women’s rights, homelessness, healthcare, and equal rights issues. Through his bold, experienced, and effective leadership, he has effectuated change in all these areas. He knows how to execute ideals and effectuate positive, progressive change. I want progress. I want results. Rick is the candidate who has the deep experience to deliver.
Rick’s leadership skills are not only exemplary, but unique. He has decades of experience uniting coalitions and engaging stakeholders, and knows how to join opposing viewpoints to come to the table and achieve results for a common good. There is a reason why Rick is endorsed by the Democratic Party, every legislator and member of Congress and democratic club who has endorsed, and every major environmental and progressive organization: they know what he can do. The type of leadership skills and passion Rick exhibits is a rarity. We will be lucky to have him serve as our representative in the legislature.
Rick Demonstrates Unique and Refreshing Authenticity and Integrity
I can attest that Rick has an authenticity and demonstrates an integrity that distinguishes him from other candidates for office. He is not just an incredible leader, but he is a wonderful father to three children, a son, and a brother. His exemplary family values underly the policies in his platform. For example, he cared for his sister Jackie when she was ill with ALS, providing the care she needed to remain in her home when she could not work anymore, and flying her to South Korea for groundbreaking treatment. Rick took care of Jackie until she unfortunately passed away. Now he is caring for his 98 year old mother who he moved into his home and is on hospice. As someone who cared for an ill and dying parent for many years, I can attest that it takes a certain person with empathy and strength to take on the role of caregiver. We need more people in public service with this type of selflessness. Rick’s authenticity and values will bring a refreshing change to the legislature.
Those who know me know that public service and bettering our community is of vital importance to me. I believe in changing the world through action. As such, I devote a significant portion of my life to non-profit activities, volunteerism, and advocating for change at either the legal or legislative level. During times when I am tested, I always go back to this quote by George Bernard Shaw:
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
This quote exemplifies my philosophy for public service. It is my guiding light. I don’t know if Rick knows this quote or not, but he lives it. He exemplifies it.
I am looking forward to seeing Rick shine bright for our community in the State Assembly. I hope you will as well.
To learn more about each of these candidates, please see their websites at https://www.louisforca.com and https://www.rickchavezzbur.com.
One thought on “Meet 51st State Assembly District Candidates Louis Abramson and Rick Chavez Zbur”
Thank you, Julie. I haven’t had time to research this particular race with multiple major development projects, school district challenges and parenting but knowing we are like mind in our CD5, mayoral and especially city attorney choices I will wholeheartedly vote for Zbur based on your beautifully articulated endorsement.