An Ode to Bill Rosendahl

I had to look up the date, but I’ll never forget the time I ran into City Council Member Bill Rosendahl on the evening of June 14. I ran into my Councilman in our usual place, the produce section of the Whole Foods on the corner of National and Barrington. The usually ebullient Rosendahl was actually a little sour faced. Earlier in the day, he had lost a vote on whether or not to give a tax break to a new downtown hotel. He voted no, everyone else voted yes.

Damien Newton paid $5 for this hug. We're told it went to charity. The "Hug a Councilman" booth was at the Mar Vista Farmer's Market in April, 2011. Photo:##http://willkirk.com/##Will Kirk Photography##

After I stopped him to say hi, and tell him I appreciated the stand he took in defeat (as a father I’ll always support someone standing up for education and the Councilman noted that the tax break given the hotel would temporarily eliminate LAUSD’s deficit if redirected). He smiled, and cursed out one of his fellow elected officials whom he counted on for support “(s)he caved to the unions.” Then he smiled and thanked me. He said the chat had made his day. Then his face relaxed into the grin that we’ve all become used to and he resumed his trip.

I’ve always had a somewhat complicated relationship with Bill Rosendahl. On one hand, I’m a journalist and activist. Given his role as Chair of the City Council Transportation Committee, he’s someone who I both regularly cover and lobby. That alone is a complicated relationship.

But ever since I moved to the 11th Councilmanic District in 2010, things got more complicated. He became the guy I run into at the grocery store and Neighborhood Council meetings. His staff made sure the potholes in the alley behind our house got filled. He cut through an army of politicians and television cameras to pose with me and my son at the Bike Plan signing. The picture was his idea.

In short, he’s not just the Chair of the City Council Committee I cover. He’s not just my Councilman. I also really like the guy. There’s exactly one other politician I can say that about, and he was my friend before he was elected to office.

When I first met the Councilman during the fall of 2007, he wanted to make the streets safe, but he was still the Councilman who ran on fixing the gridlocked traffic on the Westside. He was a solid vote on bicycle and pedestrian issues, but it wasn’t a major issue for him. After the “Mandeville Canyon” crash in the summer of 2008, the Councilman became one of the most active elected officials in city history when it came to safe streets issues. The ground-breaking bicycling anti-harassment ordinance passed in 2010 has been copied by cities around the country. Without his support, the “bike-ped set aside” for the city’s Measure R funds might never have happened. His support was also key in improving the bicycle plan. Whether he would have followed through on his threat to not let it through his committee unless cyclists were satisfied with the plan is unknown. By the time it got there, cyclists were happy.

I could go on and on about the various ways Damien, Streetsblog, Rosendahl and his team have worked together over the years. Some of our collaborations are obvious, such as the “teach a City Councilman to ride a bike” video or his appointing me to the Expo B.A.C., and others are more subtle (such as the time in a meeting with me, Don Ward and Joe Linton he just called LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in the middle of it to set a date for the “town hall” between cyclists and the LAPD). But what makes the relationship between non-profit and elected official special is that we were willing to disagree, in public, without it impacting our relationship.

When Rosendahl backed the Brentwood Community Council’s efforts to remove the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes from their portion of westside streets, Streetsblog took a dim view of his efforts. That the campaign against the lanes got hot weeks after Streetsblog named the Councilman “Politician of the Year” made it doubly annoying. However, unlike a lot of politicians, the Council Office treated both Streetsblog and me personally the same as it did when we are on the same page. Transportation Deputy Paul Backstrom continued to either take or return my calls, even when we knew the conversation would be uncomfortable. Communications director Tony Arranaga continued to provide access to the Council Member for quotes or interviews, even when we knew the interviews wouldn’t be smooth.

I can’t tell you the number of angry emails I’ve gotten from staffers for articles and headlines much more mild than the ones we aimed at Rosendahl during the Bus Only Lanes controversy. Once the votes were over, and our side won, there were no hard feelings.

As a matter of fact, in the middle of the controversy, Backstrom called me up to tell me that the “bucket bike law” was on the agenda. As far as I can tell, only Josef Bray-Ali and I ever complained about a law that basically makes it illegal for kids to ride in a bike in front of their parents. Incidentally, the law has been changed.

When Rosendahl announced he was sick with “Stage 4 Cancer” in his lower spine, I stopped seeing him at the grocery store and Farmer’s Market. I honestly thought I’d never actually see him in person again (even though he owes me some eggs). His return to City Hall was a happy day, but it’s become bittersweet as he announced he’ll be stepping back in eight months to let his Chief of Staff, Mike Bonin, run for Council in his own right. The doctor says his prognosis is improving, but fighting cancer is never easy. Maybe I’m being greedy in wanting him to stay as long as he can in “the horseshoe” where the Council meets. Or, maybe he is.

Over the next eight months, there will be plenty of time to get more work done and thank Bill for what he did in his time in office, especially over the last four years. But as the city focuses on the man after his retirement announcement, I wanted to take a couple of minutes of all of our time to say:

“In 2007, you heard us out. In 2008, you understood where we were coming from. In 2009, you used your role to make changes. In 2010, you protected us and pushed the city to move forward with planning and funding. In 2011, you rode a bike again. In 2012, you fought for a road diet in Venice and a bike path in West L.A.

“Thanks.

“We appreciate it.

“Keep it up as long as you can, but make sure you get some rest.

“I still want to see you at the grocery store.”

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