Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Elysian Park: In Memoriam, Peter Lassen
1939 – 2018, Community Activist

Photo: Diane Edwardson, Red Tailed Hawk. January 14, 2013.

Friends will gather at the Grace Simons Lodge in Elysian Park tonight to honor the life and legacy of Peter “Pete” Lassen who passed away August 8, 2018.  

I am personally saddened by Pete’s passing as he was a mentor and friend for nearly 25 years.  I always looked up to Pete.  As a community activist, I learned so much from him and we always had a great time talking about things not related to whatever community issue was at hand.  He was charismatic, friendly and had a mellifluous deep voice.  He put family first.  Pete was an inspiration to so many.  Most of all, he was a good person.  

Weeks later, my hands are shaking as I write this and I still can’t adequately sum up the decades of friendship and activism. So I’ll just tell a couple of stories.

A few years ago, while sharing lunch at HOME Restaurant patio, on a beautiful winter day with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, over the din of Riverside Fletcher intersection and the 5 Freeway, while discussing a nearby development proposal, Pete suddenly exclaimed, “Whoa! A huge hawk just took off from that power line tower! Wait there’s another one!”  In the afternoons the updrafts created by the roads and topography makes it an ideal jumping off place for hawks to soar.  Naturally, the hawk led into a long discussion of our enormous hawks and other wildlife in our neighborhoods.  In the last ten years, we actually spent more time talking about other stuff than the issue at hand.

As fellow city planning geeks, we often talked about the built environment, topography, history, native landscapes and urban wildlife. Pete always looked at how the minutiae fit into the big picture, not just how it affected immediate neighbors.

Pete was willing to explain complex and esoteric issues to community members trying to genuinely understand the technical plans on boards at community scoping meetings and how it related to the neighborhood.  When neighbors were attending 2 Freeway Terminus meetings, I told them, find Pete, hang out behind him and you’ll learn what’s important. That’s what I did.  He later said “I thought there were a number of people from your neighborhood asking me questions, and asking good questions.”

When we were involved in the SR2 Freeway Terminus Redesign, I would call him up and say things like “Am I insane?  Or is this the first time sound walls appeared on a map or at all? In 16 years, they never even discussed sound walls anywhere other than the immediate terminus.” Pete’s response was “Yes, you are insane, and, no, those sound walls were not in any previous plan or discussion [prior to the Draft EIR].”  He knew the teasing didn’t bother me.  Decades earlier, I’d learned from Pete, the importance of the details on a proposed map even if they’re not mentioned in the written portion of a proposed plan.

I remember Pete from the first community meeting I ever attended for a development proposal on the Red Car Property in the early 1990s.  He was someone I often consulted, particularly with large complex issues in the community. As community activists, through countless community meetings, small meetings and lunches, we volunteered our time fighting in the community’s interest on the Silver Lake - Echo Park - Elysian Valley Community Plan, SR2 Freeway Terminus Redesign, Glendale Blvd Corridor Plan, Neighbors of Dodger Stadium, Red Car Property, Menlo Property, Semi Tropic Spiritualists’ Tract, just to name a few things affecting our immediate neighborhood.

In his death, Pete joins more of my mentors, Virginia Adams and Rey Dominguez of Elysian Valley, Alicia Brown of Solano Canyon and Judy Raskin of Echo Park.  Pete, and all of them, not only made our community a better place, they made Los Angeles and the world a better place.   

Rest in peace Pete.
Diane Edwardson  

Read more about Pete Lassen: The Eastsider