Tom Barron then introduced our Rotary guest speaker for today, Sam Yebri. Sam is a founding member of “30 Years After”, a group to promote the participation and leadership of Iranian-American Jews in American political, Civic, and Jewish Life. 30 Years After is a 501(c) (3) non profit. Sam is an attorney and a former Los Angeles City Commissioner.
Sam Yebri: Sam stated that it was a pleasure to be with people who take tradition, service, and patriotism so seriously. He is inspired by the work that Rotary does. Sam then acknowledged Guity, Mark and Roozbeh as leaders in the Iranian community.
Sam’s story began in 1981 when he was 1 year old and came to the United States with his family after the Iranian revolution, and the persecution of Jews in Iran at the time. They were granted political asylum and their family settled in Westwood, where Sam grew up and attended school. Sam is so grateful to have come to Los Angeles, and feels a strong tie to the city and to this country. He has always felt the need to “give back” to the community that became his family’s home and safe haven.
On a sense of scale, Sam stated that there are over 500,000 Iranian-Americans in the United States, and approx 200,000 in California. Westwood has the highest concentration of Iranian-Americans in the US.
In 2007, Sam founded 30 Years After, feeling that he had a debt to re-pay to this society.At that time 1400 people attended their first conference in 2008.
Sam feels that 30 Years After has been passed on to a new generation. He feels that this young Iranian-American generation is branching out from medicine, law and business, and moving into philanthropy, culture, tech, and the Arts as well. He feels that the Iranian community is ready to take it’s seat at many tables across the city and be much more involved.
Sam the invited questions from the group:
Gordon asked : “What do you think is the most pressing issue we should be dealing with in our community”?
Sam: Our city is facing a lot of issues. People are losing faith in the city in solving these problems. Homelessness, affordable housing, public safety, helping businesses post COVID, tenant protections, etc. City Hall needs to be revamped. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to restore basic services.
Regarding homelessness, other cities have implemented successful models. Mental health in regards to homelessness is so important. We need to bring common sense back to important issues, such as homelessness, and demand urgent action.
Tom asked: “You have a successful law firm and practice and are involved in the community, and I understand you are running for the 5th District City Council seat in 2022. Why do you want to run for office?”
Sam: I worked for Bill Bradley while in college at Yale, so I had a taste of public service in a more genteel time. I learned then about what public service meant. I’ve felt our city was going in the wrong direction very fast. I sat down with my wife and made the decision to run. We have four young kids under the age of 8. We wanted a city that looked like what I found when my family came from Iran. As a refugee, I feel I have a debt to repay to this city, and for my kids. We have to turn things around in City Hall. I am not taking any money from developers, oil and gas companies, lobbiests, or unions. This is a rel crisis moment.
Mark Amelie: In 2009 I ran for Judge. I went to 30 Years After. I saw these young Iranian-Americans and they knew what they had in the United States. I support Sam fully. We need to be in control as a community, not the politicians.
Mark Rogo: “Can you explain the Iranian artwork piece at Santa Monica Blvd in Century City?"
Sam: The Cyrus Cylinder. King Cyrus was known for bringing new freedoms to the world. It is a source of pride for much of the Iranian-Americans here. This hopefully will start a trend of contributions from the Iranian community to the city.
Ed Gault: “Is the country of Iran fair game? Is there any hope that Iran can transition from Theocracy to Democracy?"
Sam: I absolutely do think there is hope. The people of Iran are educated, young, and are yearning to be free. People are being oppressed. You can’t hold people, or their freedoms down forever. I think there will eventually be a democracy.
Nancy: “I wish our past president Diane Good was here, she is the director at the Salvation Army Transitional Center and does wonderful work, but in the area of homelessness, do you see other cities doing it better”?
Sam: Let’s break it down to constituent issues. We have a big problem with inflow. A big problem with people falling into homelessness. Every day in LA we house 207 people, but 227 people fall into homelessness. LA has been a magnet for people, perhaps due to weather, or city services, but prevention is critical. The outflow is that we have to create affordable housing in a smart way. Long-term strategies will require changing our mental health laws, and identifying root causes. Other cities have done better in building transitional housing models, and doing it much cheaper. There is a lack of common sense, and taking too long. There is also a lack of enforcement and public safety. Tip-toeing around these issues and being politically correct is not working. The city will spend $2.5 billion in 2021 and nothing suggests the problem is getting better.
Philip: “What other low hanging fruit issues would you want to work on besides homelessness?”
Sam: Make sure police are working on crime, preventing it and enforcing it. Adding mental health staff to certain police calls to de-escalate. Public Safety issues such as street racing, etc. Oil and gas wells not being inspected. Rec and Parks, our parks are in disrepair, and we need more green, open space, create more parklets. Business revitalization. Westwood Village should be a gem for Los Angeles. Quality of life issues, Security and restoring services.
Tom: “This city is really run by Councilmembers, not the Mayor.”
Sam: It is the most important job in the city, in my opinion. The most important person in the city is your elected council person. It will be up to them on whether we take back our city.
Nancy: Thank you Sam for this very important discussion. In appreciation, the Westwood Village Rotary Club will make a donation in Sam’s name.
- Commentary by Youth Chair Phil Gabriel