Charlotte Gunter - Westchester
Charlotte has played many roles in the community since she and her late husband moved to Westchester’s Kentwood neighborhood in 1952. Charlotte has become known as not only an actress with the Kentwood Players, but also as an important voice in the neighborhood who has made it her goal to preserve Westchester’s quaint, hometown feel that she fell in love with more than five decades ago.
Known as “Miss Kentwood Players” in the community, Charlotte joined the local theatre company in Westchester in 1957. Throughout her tenure with the community theatre, Charlotte has earned awards for her work as an actress, singer and producer (she still believes her best work was her starring role in the Players’ production of A Streetcar Named Desire).
Charlotte is a dedicated neighbor who has contributed to the community as a member of the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society of Westchester. In 2000, with the support of the LAX Area Chamber of Commerce and her dear friend Mary Lou Crockett, Charlotte organized the first Westchester Fourth of July Parade. The parade has become a popular hometown event in the years since, bringing thousands of neighbors together every Independence Day.
Charlotte was also a vocal leader in the successful fight to stop LAX from expanding into the Westchester neighborhood, and Charlotte’s work alongside Denny Schneider and other neighbors helped Mike negotiate a settlement to a lawsuit that allows LAX to modernize - without expanding.
Charlotte’s vision for Westchester is for the community to hold onto its unique and cohesive spirit, which she has enjoyed since 1952.
Lucy Blake-Elahi - Ladera
Lucy is an artist and art educator who lives in Ladera. She has dedicated herself to beautifying communities throughout the Westside with murals and public art.
When Lucy and her husband moved to Ladera, they helped organize the area’s first Neighborhood Watch group and held monthly meetings at their home. During this time, Lucy saw how important it was to build relationships with her neighbors, and that ultimately sparked her interest in creating a sense of community through beautification projects.
Lucy has dedicated much of her life to her artistry, working as an artist and art history professor at West Los Angeles College. Her community involvement is primarily focused through her work as a visual artist. Lucy is the artist behind the Ballona Creek murals titled Postcards from Ballona (1997) and Rivers of the World (1996). She also created “Homage to Ballona Creek,” an outdoor public art installation that features a large sundial positioned at 32 degrees, the latitude at which Culver City is located. The base of the sundial is surrounded by colorful tiles, which reference the animals and vegetation that once inhabited the area, and quotations - representing the diverse languages spoken in Culver City - also surround the base of the sculpture. Lucy is passionate about the environment and a long-time member of the Sierra Club and of Ballona Creek Renaissance, an organization dedicated to greening and preserving the Ballona Creek on the Westside.
Lucy has also worked with they Del Rey Neighborhood Council to design aluminum banners for the community, and she is currently working on an in-studio mural that can be moved throughout communities on the Westside.
Lucy’s vision for Ladera is to have more residents involved in the community, art installations that represent Ladera’s unique character, and progress improving pedestrian safety.
Mia Duncans - Mar Vista
Mia Duncans is a big-hearted, positive force of nature who helps cultivate the spirit of Mar Vista though her love of photography - and her love of the community.
Mia’s history in Mar Vista has very deep roots. She has lived in the neighborhood her entire life and is in the third of five generations of Mar Vista natives in her family. Her grandparents’ first house was on Ashwood Avenue in the early 1900s.
Mia’s involvement in her community was inspired by her mother, Dolores Montgomery, herself a longtime activist and neighborhood booster who passed away recently. Mia works hard to raise public awareness about the community and encourage positivity throughout the neighborhood. In 2014, she spearheaded a campaign to save Pepy’s Galley, a beloved local restaurant located inside the old AMF bowling alley on Venice Boulevard. Hundreds of people followed Mia’s lead and took part in the rally to try and save the historical diner. Mia organized supporters to attend City Council meetings and organized a rally in front of the bowling alley. While not ultimately successful in stopping the closure of the restaurant, Mia’s work helped give the beloved neighborhood restaurant a warm send-off.
Mia is a photojournalist who often works for the Argonaut News, a weekly newspaper that serves the Westside. During the recent Woosley Fire, Mia took photos of landmarks that the media incorrectly claimed to be destroyed to inform neighbors that the landmarks were still standing. She also loves taking photos throughout Mar Vista, most notably at the Mar Vista Artwalk. Outside of her work at the Argonaut, Mia keeps her neighbors and Westside friends in the loop via social media, Facebook and Instagram through her own photography business, @miaduncansphotography.
Mia envisions Mar Vista as a community where neighbors are encouraged to know one another, to celebrate together, and to join in making decisions about the future of the community.
Peter Ruiz - Venice
Peter Ruiz is a Venice resident best known for helping others throughout the neighborhood and for dedicating his time to beautify and improve the Venice Pier.
Peter is a passionate and hard-working Venetian who has mobilized the community to revitalize the Venice Pier and give it the attention it deserves. In 2014, Peter officially launched the Venice Pier Project, a program focused on keeping the pier free of graffiti and trash, and making it a community destination that neighbors and visitors can enjoy. Peter is always thinking of opportunities to bring people to the Venice Pier, and he hosts community gatherings there, including “Let’s Go Fishing” - a family-friendly event Peter started to encourage children and neighbors to learn how to fish. More than 100 people joined Peter at the event, where neighbors not only learned to fish but also enjoyed the company of their friends.
Every year, Peter decorates the pier for the July 4th holiday, placing American flags along the rails of the pier and lining the lifeguard tower with stars and stripes. For Christmas, Peter decorates the lifeguard tower with bows and garlands. In 2016, Peter organized the pier’s 20th Anniversary party, which brought out tons of neighbors, the LAFD, and city staffers. He has been deservedly recognized by LA County for his work.
In addition, Peter is an active volunteer in the Venice community. He is on the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ocean Front Walk Committee, which is responsible for addressing issues and concerns about, as well as planning programs, on the boardwalk. He is a beach captain for Heal the Bay, for which he helps obtain the necessary permits to organize beach cleanups, and monitors the marine protected areas of Venice Beach. Peter also volunteers with the Ballona Renaissance and the Israel Levin Center.
When Peter sees an opportunity to improve the neighborhood, he takes action. Venice is lucky to have such a humble, outgoing, and loving guy doing his part to improve the pier and the spirit of the neighborhood.
Peter’s vision is to unify old and new residents in the Venice community.
Lila Saint-Denis - West LA
If there is an event that involves food and the community in West LA, there’s a good chance that Lila Saint-Denis is involved. Whether it is at a neighborhood potluck, community clean up, or neighborhood beautification project, Lila is someone who enjoys sharing her love of baking and crafting with her neighbors.
Lila moved to West LA about a decade ago, and quickly immersed herself into the West LA community. Her passion for creating community and connecting with her neighbors led her to host a “Pie Social” at Stoner Park for friends and families, where each person made a pie or brought their favorite treat.
Since the success of her first event, Lila has continued building community through food in West LA. Every year, she helps host the “Fall Sweets and Savory Treats” community social, a great event complete with tasty desserts and families from the neighborhood! She also organizes the “Spring into Action Summer” community social in West LA, another great community potluck where neighbors socialize and share ideas in a safe, loving space.
Lila’s community work encompasses more than sharing her love of food. She is an active volunteer as well, participating in various neighborhood cleanups: those organized through the West LA Community Coalition; Nora Sterry’s Sparkle Day - a campus cleanup at Nora Sterry Elementary School; and the repainting of park benches and tables at Stoner Park.
Lila’s fun-loving spirit is a positive force that resonates throughout the West LA neighborhood.
Lila’s vision for her community is to bridge the gaps for those who feel less connected to their neighbors and friends.
Becky Avila - Del Rey
Strong, outspoken, and resilient, Becky Avila is doing her part to empower and develop young people in the Del Rey community. Raised in the Mar Vista Gardens in Del Rey, Becky is deeply involved in the neighborhood as a community leader, and believes that it is important for her to feel like she is “one of the authors writing the story of the Westside.”
Becky’s passion to give back to her neighborhood stems from her experience going to college outside the comfort of her hometown. After years of work and studying, Becky earned a PhD in American Studies from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, with an emphasis in Racial Politics, Language, and Education. Becky’s time earning her doctorate fostered a new perspective on her understanding of poverty, and inspired her to create change within her own community.
After Becky graduated, she returned to her roots, taking a job as an education coordinator and Director of After School Programs for the Mar Vista Family Center - a non-profit that provides low income families with early childhood education, youth enrichment and educational opportunities. In her role, Becky organized community events, including the Mar Vista Family Center’s Annual Literacy Fair, as well as its Annual Youth Conference.
In her current role as the Development & Communications Manager for Safe Place for Youth (SPY), Becky works closely with young people experiencing homelessness or housing instability, and supports the organization in its efforts to increase affordable housing and resources for young people who are at risk of homelessness in Los Angeles.
Becky’s community work doesn’t end at her job. She serves as the Area E Director on the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, where her main objective is to collaborate with other board members to engage with issues confronting her immediate community, including homelessness, business development, safety, education and art. Becky also played a key role in helping organize this year’s Del Rey Day event - her favorite community gathering!
Del Rey - and the entire Westside - is a better community because Becky’s commitment to give back to her neighborhood, making it a great place to live, work and enjoy.
Becky’s vision is for more affordable housing in Del Rey.
Sam Lagana - Pacific Palisades
Sam’s community work is robust and comprehensive, and has been focused on improving youth experiences and creating community. Sam served as the chair of the Palisades/Malibu YMCA Board, where he worked to acquire and activate the land at Temescal Canyon Road and Sunset Boulevard to be used by the YMCA. Sam also served on the Palisades Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, where he served as Treasurer, and on the Chamber’s “Park Committee,” which allowed him to play a role raising funds and working with the city to build a new gym at Palisades Recreation Center. Sam has also served on the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission since 1997 as Advisory Board member.
Sam is Assistant Vice Chancellor at Pepperdine University and is the stadium announcer for the Los Angeles Rams, but locally Sam is probably best-known for his more than three decades as the announcer of the Palisades Americanism Parade. Each year, families from throughout the area gather to enjoy a festive holiday parade, and Sam’s voice informs neighbors about the floats and participants taking part in the beloved annual tradition.
Deservedly so, Sam has long been recognized for his work. In 2000, USA Volleyball presented Lagana with the Robert Lindsay Award for meritorious service to the sport's national governing body. In 2004, The Los Angeles Athletic Club presented Lagana with its highest honor, the "Duke Award", for outstanding contributions to club activities and sports in Los Angeles. In 2009, Lagana received a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Los Angeles and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for community engagement and dedication, while in 2012, the California State Senate and Assembly honored him for his servant leadership.
Sam wants Pacific Palisades to be a vibrant place where people celebrate life and family together.
Shahin Khajavi - Playa Vista
Shahin Khajavi is affectionately known as the “Traffic Guy,” in his Playa Vista neighborhood, and the moniker fits. Shahin is a LADOT traffic engineer - he works with neighbors and conducts traffic investigations on the Westside. Shahin’s direct involvement with Westside constituents in his job for the past 29 years has inspired his engagement with his Playa Vista neighbors.
Shahin often attends homeowner association meetings, as well as Playa Vista Parks and Landscape (PVPAL) community meetings, to make recommendations for safety improvements in the neighborhood. Shahin’s extensive knowledge of pedestrian safety issues has been a boon for his neighborhood, and his suggestions have resulted in new, safer continental crosswalks being installed around Playa Vista Concert Park, as well as new red curb installations to improve visibility for motorists and pedestrians. Shahin has also helped his community replace missing and faded signs throughout the neighborhood, and he helped get all-way stop signs installed at several locations in Playa Vista. He is dedicated to making sure Playa Vista is a safe and innovative community, and for that his neighbors are all incredibly grateful.
Most people want to develop and implement a creative community based on strategies to enhance economic opportunity and build strong neighborhoods, which Shahin want as well. But from his perspective, he wants Playa Vista to be one of the safest communities in the nation.
Teresa Kim - Playa del Rey
Affectionately known by some of her Playa del Rey neighbors as “the Playa del Rey mom,” Teresa Kim, owner of Gordon’s Market, is doing her part to keep her community healthy, offering everything from alkaline water to organic pet food at the neighborhood’s one stop shop. Teresa makes sure the market is the kind of Mom & Pop business neighbors love. As Playa del Rey resident Sara Kay recently posted on a local Facebook group, “Teresa (Gordon's Market) for the win, as usual! I ran out of Hanukkah candles, and sooooo didn't feel like getting in my car. No need, Teresa ALWAYS has what I need, and if by some chance she doesn't, she'll have it for me two days later. Last year I asked for Hanukkah candles, and boom, this year there they were.”
Since Gordon’s Market opened in November 2013, it has been a beloved community gathering spot. The neighborhood-friendly market sits in the heart of downtown Playa del Rey, and not only serves morning coffee, but also doubles as a deli that serves delicious sandwiches and soups that keep neighbors coming back. Her market provides great food options that people can enjoy without leaving the neighborhood.
Teresa cares about her community and the market is often the hub of organizing and promoting community events and activities. This year, the store featured a huge banner objecting to the proposed Legado development, and Teresa recruited neighbors to oppose it -- and handed out free popsicles when they succeeded. Teresa also supports the neighborhood by sponsoring the annual Jungle Clean Up, and donating fresh alkaline water and treats to the hard working volunteers.
Teresa want people to feel at home, where they can come and relax and feel welcomed.
Robert Rene - Brentwood
Charitable and humble, Robert has spent much of his two decades in Brentwood in service to the community. For 12 years, he served as President of the Brentwood Homeowners Association, where he fought to protect the Brentwood community from overdevelopment, traffic gridlock, and environmental threats. In addition to steering the large HOA through conflicts and controversies, Robert became famous for his humorous and light-hearted powerpoint presentations at the HOA’s annual meeting, poking fun at board members, elected officials, Brentwood residents and the community’s reputation.
Robert has long been passionate about public education. His recent efforts include: helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for Westside public schools, supporting a book program for classes in an inner-city LAUSD high school, and supporting the build out of Palisades High Schools’ recognized STEAM Shop Innovation Lab. Robert also actively supports the Track, Swim, Water Polo and Booster efforts at the school. Robert considers his time in both leadership positions as an act of giving back to the community and city.
While Robert has given much of his time to the Brentwood neighborhood, he considers the people who work for the City of Los Angeles - teachers, LAPD, LAFD, first responders and all of those who contribute to a better quality of life for residents - the real heroes.
Robert says Brentwood is a neighborhood filled with folks who tend to be very concerned about the world around them, are typically reasonably informed, fairly open-minded and absolutely charitable, and Robert would like for that same care to continue for years to come.