[PEOPLE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD] Cindy Chvatal: Producing Change in Her Neighborhood
HANCOCK PARK—Cindy Chvatal, president of the Hancock Park Homeowners Assoc. (HPHA), recently received some very good news.
“Just got confirmation from the council office,” said Chvatal. “The concrete is in the mayor’s budget.”
The concrete in question is what the streets of Hancock Park have been craving for decades. Designated as a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) in 2007, the neighborhood, by city ordinance, is supposed to have maintained concrete streets, but some streets have not been re-done since 1954.
The quest for cement streets is just one of several issues that Chvatal has taken on over years of neighborhood activism. She was one of the founding members of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council (GWNC) in the early 2000s, is currently in the midst of an almost decade-long run as the president of the local homeowner’s association and is also a member of the Discretionary Funds Task Force for Los Angeles City Council District 4.
Although deeply entrenched in her community, Chvatal is originally from Chicago. After attending the University of Illinois, she got a job in a Chicago office of IBM. At that time, the company was interested in giving grants to arts organizations and asked Chvatal to find some worthy candidates.
Chvatal discovered the Remains Theater and wound up securing a grant for it, joining their board and began producing plays.
“I had a day job and this other job and I just fell in love with it,” Chvatal said.
Eventually, Chvatal moved to Los Angeles with fellow Remains company member and friend, actor William Petersen when he secured a role in director William Friedkin’s 1985 film, To Live and Die in L.A. Chvatal learned the film business as Friedkin’s assistant and began a production company with Peterson.
The duo produced “some small movies,” but in 2000 they launched the first episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation with Petersen as the star. The show went on to run for 15 seasons and spun off three other series.
Yet, somehow, Chvatal, who was also the mother of two young boys, made time to be involved with her community.
“I’m very organized,” she said, with a smile.
In fact, it was her two boys who spurred Chvatal into becoming a community activist for Hancock Park. Concerned that there were no speed bumps on her street—McCadden Place—she approached the HPHA for help. She was told to start a petition, which evolved into more and more community involvement.
More recently, Chvatal’s pursuit for concrete streets in her neighborhood led her to investigate how council district discretionary funds are spent and placed the issue at the epicenter of the last council district election.
“First of all, I don’t know how many people really knew that there were discretionary funds available,” said Chvatal.
For years, Chvatal said she asked former CD4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge to have some potholes fixed in Hancock Park with the requisite concrete and was repeatedly told there was no money.
Frustrated by his response, Chvatal starting questioning LaBonge’s spending. The result was the discovery that the long-term councilmember had discretionary funds available, but had used them for years to increase his staff’s salaries and for donations to non-profits, some which were not in his council district.
The issue became a key roadblock for LaBonge’s former Chief of Staff Carolyn Ramsay in her 2015 election campaign to replace him. Ultimately she was defeated by David Ryu, who campaigned, in part, on a pledge for more transparency regarding discretionary spending. He pledged, and soon after he was elected, created a task force of local constituents to oversee discretionary spending.
Today, Chvatal is a member of that task force. The group acts as an advisory team with all final decisions made by Ryu. According to Estevan Montemayor, spokesperson for the council office, total discretionary funds for CD4 vary between $1 million to $1.5 million depending on the year.
Since the task force’s creation, funds have been approved for a variety of projects, including tree removal in Griffith Park, creating a traffic median in the Hollywood Hills Oaks neighborhood and building a fence in Lake Hollywood to separate wildlife from the public.
Recently, about $300,000 was allocated from the funds to repair an intersection and a block of 4th Street in Hancock Park, a long-deferred victory for the neighborhood.
“It’s great. There’s transparency. There’s a sense of consensus and community,” she said, “and we never had that.”
Susan Grossman, a boardmember of the HPHA has known and worked with Chvatal for almost 20 years. In addition to taking the lead in establishing Hancock Park’s HPOZ—a 10 year effort—Grossman said she has seen Chvatal help create tree planting initiatives, improve relations with the schools, non-profits and businesses in and surrounding Hancock Park and support traffic control initiatives.
“Cindy is always 100% behind anyone who takes an active, constructive interest in improving their neighborhood,” said Grossman. “She’s not only determined and focused, but fun and self-deprecating. She is my model of what a good leader, and friend, should be.”
Last March, Ryu nominated Chvatal as Council District 4’s Pioneer Woman, an award given to a woman in each LA council district who, according to a press release, “makes outstanding contributions to the strength, vitality, and enrichment of Los Angeles.”
“It was lovely,” said Chvatal, who accepted the award at Los Angeles City Hall with her husband, composer John Keane, in attendance.
Around that same time, Chvatal and the HPHA began a petition urging Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to put the cost of Hancock Park concrete street repairs in the city budget as mandated by the neighborhood’s HPOZ status—a move that could eliminate the need to ask for future discretionary funds towards repairs. According to Chvatal, the HPHA gathered 200 signatures within the first 20 minutes the petition was put online.
“We have a really active community,” Chvatal said. “I love my neighbors.
On April 20th, Garcetti released the city’s 2016-2017 proposed budget with a $750,000 line item marked “Pavement Preservation (Concrete Streets).” According to Montemayor, that money, as promised, is earmarked for Hancock Park.