Zar Heads Palisades Community Council

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

New Palisades Community Council President Maryam Zar is an avid volunteer who has donated time to local schools, the council and the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness.

This work is vital to her. “I love to do it,” Zar said. “I enjoy the freedom to be able to work towards issues that I believe in, pursuing them for a gain other than monetary and for the benefit of someone other than me. I think I really thrive on that. If I didn’t have volunteer work to frame my day and frame my life, I’d feel lost.”

Zar, who has three children attending local public schools, donates her time to Marquez Elementary, Palisades High School and Paul Revere Middle School, where she will be the president of the Parent Teacher Student Association in the fall. In 2014, Zar came to the community council as an educational representative, appointed by Paul Revere. Her role expanded later that year when she agreed to chair the council’s Task Force on Homelessness, and in April, she was honored as a Volunteer of the Year by L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Maryam Zar is the new Community Council president. Photo: Bart Bartholomew
Maryam Zar is the new Community Council president.
Photo: Bart Bartholomew

For the homelessness task force, Zar formed subcommittees to look into aspects of the issue, such as fire danger, police enforcement, and simply counting the local homeless population. The task force investigated what similar communities had done to address the varied issues that stem from homelessness.

A strategy emerged to: 1.) provide services through the Ocean Park Community Center, whose two outreach workers connect with the local homeless population and work to find homes for them (including 50 of the roughly 200 local homeless population who are now engaged or enrolled in services with 15 already off the streets—three of them in permanent housing), 2.) reduce fire danger by posting signs designating areas as high fire zones, which meant camp- ing was not permitted and a 72-hour notice would no longer be required for arrests of campers, and 3.) increase police enforcement not only through the changes that the signs allowed, but also via collaborating with the L.A. Police Department and applying community pressure through the task force.

In the process, Zar, who also writes for the Huffington Post, learned deeply about the homeless population.

“Homelessness is not this one big pot that wethinkof,”shesaid.Thehomelessmight be current or former foster kids, victims of abuse, people who divorced to escape horrible marriages without an adequate way to support themselves, people with mental health issues, or “some people who can’t matriculate with society. Homelessness isn’t homelessness. It’s mental health. It’s poverty. It’s lack of support. People don’t just pop out of the ground homeless. To get them off the street requires a whole host of services. There’s no magic wand.”

Zar, who on June 30 stepped down from chairing the task force, was initially hesitant to take on the role of council president because she was a relative newcomer to both the council and Pacific Palisades. She had moved to the Palisades in 2014 after 14 years in Brentwood. But other council members nominated Zar and encouraged her to accept the position.

Outgoing council president Chris Spitz said Zar’s “skills, judgment and work ethic are unsurpassed. I greatly relied and continue to rely on her, and I am thrilled not only that she agreed to be nominated, but was unanimously elected and will be serving as Pacific Palisades Community Council’s president in the coming term. [The council] is fortunate indeed to have a person of her caliber guiding this organization as we continue to address the many serious issues impacting our community.”

Before coming to the Westside, Zar had traveled widely. At 9 years old, her parents left Iran before the revolution, and she lived in Paris and New Jersey before attending college at Boston University, where she graduated in 1990. She worked for a few years in Iran as a news correspondent for an English language newspaper, and later, she and her husband, who married in New York City, began a retail business involving shopping trips to Italy for goods that they sold in the United States, eventually operating six stores. The couple now owns a manufacturing company that produces accessories, such as shoes and belts, for various national brands.

Zar is looking forward to her new position on the council and treasured her time as a council vice president this past year working with Spitz. Spitz “spearheaded a great deal of innovation and stood staunchly against some encroachments into Palisadian quality of life issues that would have had repercussions for years to come,” said Zar, who noted that she particularly valued Spitz’ intellect and strength.

In addition, Zar is anticipating an inter- esting tenure of service as the council president. “I look forward to working with everyone, old and new, and hearing all points of view as we tackle new issues and grapple with ongoing projects that will surely affect our town,” Zar said. “We will continue to be an important voice in the West LA Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC) as well as among elected officials who have always lent us their ear due to the hard won credability of the PPCC over the years.”

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