Meet Your Board Member - At Large Representative Desa Philadelphia

Desa Philadelphia

What’s your history with West LA? 

DP: I moved to West LA in 2003 when Time Magazine transferred me from New York to Los Angeles to cover the movie business. I was a very bad driver at the time (I lived in the city in New York and never drove) and I arrived in Los Angeles during rush hour. I drove out of LAX in my rental car, got onto the 405, and almost had a heart attack. By the time I got to my short-term rental in Santa Monica I had sworn I wasn't going to be commuter. The Time Inc. offices are on Wilshire near Barrington (I can see the office tower from my apartment) so I moved into the neighborhood and fell in love. I eventually left the job, but my connection to the neighborhood remained.

We had to leave for a little while because my husband had to bring his dog from Canada and we couldn't find an apartment that would let us have a 76-pound German shorthaired pointer (although he was the most lovable dog ever. He has since died of cancer). A friend was moving out of her place and asked her landlord (a dog lover) to let us move in with the dog and our baby daughter, and so we happily came back to our favorite neighborhood.

Outside of the NC what do you do with your time?

DP: We have a 7-year old daughter and I spend a lot of time doing kiddie activities on the westside. I work for the USC School of Cinematic Arts, which I believe is the best media school in the world. And I'm a writer.

What do you like most about West LA? 

DP: The diversity. My husband Aaron and I both value diversity. We have friends of all races, cultures, and belief systems. We are both immigrants; he's from Canada and I'm from Guyana, South America. I also like that Sawtelle continues to be proud of its Japanese-American heritage. I enjoy telling people I live in Sawtelle Japantown and I've researched the history of the neighborhood.

What would you like to see improved?

DP: The Public Schools. But I would probably say that regardless of where in Los Angeles I lived. I think LA has a public schools problem.

What made you run for a Board seat in the WLASNC?

DP: I feel so connected to WLAS and yet I had no idea how to get my questions answered and how to contribute ideas. A friend of mine who has a business in Santa Monica recently had to appear before his neighborhood council and the Santa Monica planning commission and I accompanied him to a couple meetings. It make me realize that there had to be a similar organization in my neighborhood and that's how I found WLASNC.

Development is huge in West LA. What’s your opinion on it all? Specifics are fine too if you’d like. 

DP: I like what has happened so far. My first apartment was at Federal and Santa Monica and the strip between Federal and Colby has been totally revamped and great new businesses have moved in, like Level Up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

However, I also greatly support older businesses that retain their unique personalities—and old-school storefronts in some cases—and contribute to the neighborhood's diversity, like Cacao, Guido's, Hide, CineFile, Hashimoto's, Star Bakery, Juquila, Santa Monica Glatt Kosher Market and Giant Robot, which were all there when I first moved in (and these are just few examples). I don't want the neighborhood to be just a cookie-cutter example of what's hot right now. I think it's important to respect Sawtelle's history and the businesses that have served as the foundation for the current growth and prosperity.

I guess I'd summarize my view by saying I'm a supporter of development but I don't want to see older businesses pushed out. I also learned at the last WLASNC meeting that our neighborhood is zoned for more residents than we currently have so I think we're on the right track with encouraging new development.

Traffic is also a hot topic in West LA. How do you personally handle it? 

DP: I try to plan so that I'm not contributing to the traffic. So I tend to avoid driving in the neighborhood during rush hour, although I know that's not an option for many people (as the traffic attests ;) We walk if we're going out in the afternoon/evening. Which is also why I appreciate the variety of businesses we have within walking distance.

Do you have any suggestions to help mitigate it?

DP: I think encouraging diversity in the kinds of businesses that come into the neighborhood so that people have more of what they need close by, and therefore more reason to walk. I think our neighborhood could use a couple more day care centers, for example. A young friend who recently moved in thought there could be more lounges to encourage young people to hang out after work and stagger the rush hour flight. I love the NuArt and the Royal, but a movie theatre that plays more of the current Hollywood fare would be great (I'm thinking of something like the Cinemark in Playa Vista which seems to be really successful and greatly utilized in that neighborhood). 

In general I think mixed use development is great because it serves people from across the neighborhood. Increased foot traffic would greatly benefit the businesses on Santa Monica Blvd, for example, as it does the businesses on Sawtelle. We are so bummed that Froplay on the corner of Santa Monica and Colby closed (shoutout to owner Ed). A business like that needs foot traffic to survive. Also I think the neighborhood could use some bicycle parking.

Do you have any personal interests or hobbies that you’d like to share?

DP: I love the arts. I'm a writer so I guess that's not surprising. I love indie movies. My husband likes to tease that I love movies where nothing happens. I say it's all about the inner journey. I go to museums, plays, dance performances, and all manner of other cultural presentations around town. I'm a huge tennis fan and I aspire to be a recreational tennis player; right now I'm more of a student. And although I'm a terrible (terrible!) singer, I love karaoke. It's my stress relief. I even make singalong compilations for the car. Bad traffic is great karaoke time.