By MICHAEL AUSHENKER and FRANCES SHARPE | Contributing Writer/Editor-in-Chief
Hundreds gathered to mourn the passing of former Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl at a memorial service at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica on Tuesday, April 5.
Rosendahl, who was known for his larger-than-life personality, died at age 70 on March 30 after a four-year battle with cancer.
Many Palisadians joined local and state government officials such as Councilmember Mike Bonin, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Attorney Mike Feuer and U.S. Representative Jane Harmon, along with officials from LAPD and LAFD, to pay their respects for the former councilmember for CD 11, which includes Pacific Palisades.
At the morning service, Santa Monica Canyon resident Sharon Kilbride told the Palisadian-Post she recalled Rosendahl’s efforts in preserving her family’s heritage.
“He was very instrumental in saving the front lot of the family cemetery,” said the Marquez family descendant.
During the homily, St. Monica’s Monsignor Lloyd Torgerson said, “Every life is an unfinished symphony…Bill’s symphony was a life of incredible care and love and support for all of us. Bill had a special love for those who were on the fringes of life.”
Laughter and applause punctuated the homily, which recounted some of Rosendahl’s efforts to help the disenfranchised and captured his joie de vivre.
“Great, great, great, great! How many times did we hear Bill say that?” the Monsignor asked.
As part of the ceremony, Rosendahl’s protégé and successor on the council Bonin asked the mourners to pray for those who are afflicted with cancer or terminal illness, the homeless, our public officials and community leaders, as well as journalists so they can “shed light and share the truth.”
On the day of Rosendahl’s death, Bonin announced his passing on social media.
“Heaven is alive with more life and energy than ever today, freshly blessed with the exuberant, positive, loving spirit of Bill Rosendahl,” Bonin said.
The beloved former Councilmember had been under hospice care at his Mar Vista home, according to Bonin.
On Feb. 15, Bonin made the news of Rosendahl’s impending death public on Facebook with the following statement, which read in part:
“With a very heavy heart, I must report that Bill is gravely ill. After several hospital visits and a brief stay in a convalescent home, Bill returned to his Mar Vista home last week, where he is receiving round-the-clock hospice care.
“His medical team and his family both feel that he is in his twilight days, and his transition from this world to the next has begun. He is comfortable and happy, surrounded by family and friends, at home in the house he adores, with the sounds of his chickens and the fresh breeze he loves so much…Bill has given so much throughout his lifetime to everyone he has touched. It is time for us to shine that love back at him. Thanks so much.”
As an 11th district representative, the popular Rosendahl represented a huge swath of the Westside, covering a diverse socio-economic strata from the affluent residents of tony Pacific Palisades and neighboring Brentwood, to the beachside community of Venice.
Under his watch, these areas had seen much tension and strain due to a variety of chronic issues, including homelessness and crime.
Rosendahl, who came out in the 1970s as gay, had a lengthy career at the forefront of various civil rights battles.
Rosendahl told the Post in 2013 that he cried tears of joy when President Obama recognized the rights of gays and lesbians to be married.
On a personal level, Rosendahl appeared savvy when it came to real estate. In 1986, Rosendahl paid $160,000 for a small fixer-upper in Venice just blocks from the ocean that he re-sold in 1991 for $300,000 after installing skylights, converting the garage into a guest room and creating a new kitchen.
“[It] gave me the down payment I needed to buy a house with more land, which was very important to me,” he told the Post.
That money went toward his $600,000 Mar Vista home, which sat on a double lot with an ocean view.
It was at his Mar Vista home—a short drive from Adelphia, where he had worked for 22 years and had left in March 2003—where Rosendahl made his decision to enter local politics.
“I thought that instead of just talking about the issues that maybe I could help do something about them,” he told the Post.
As Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski served two terms and with only one serious opponent in the Los Angeles Times-endorsed Flora Gil Krisiloff, Rosendahl launched his political campaign in the Palisades, with a fundraiser at Bill and Cindy Simon’s home in the Huntington.
In May 2005, Rosendahl won his seat and was sworn in on July 1 of that year to serve under Mayor Villaraigosa. At 60, Rosendahl, with the help of then-campaign manager Bonin, had defeated Krisiloff with a victory of 26,613 votes (56.6 percent) to Krisiloff’s 20,439 (43.4 percent).
Upon taking office in 2005, Rosendahl immediately focused on favoring regional airports as opposed to expanding LAX, improving public safety and establishing his Empowerment Congress to give his neighborhoods a greater say in municipal decision-making. He also promoted mass transit, and his goal of extending the Expo Line from Culver City to Santa Monica was ultimately realized just weeks ago by the end of 2015.
Among Rosendahl’s many local victories in the Palisades: fighting to keep Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Station 69 fully staffed and saving the Portrero Canyon project by creating a fund to keep it going.
Rosendahl was always quick to credit the merits and accomplishments of his diverse, 22-person staff, which included Palisadians Norman Kulla, his district director and senior counsel (who had quit his role as president of the Pacific Palisades Community Council to work on Rosendahl’s re-election campaign); cultural deputy Laurie Sale; and constituent advocate Reza Akef.
“I’m only as good as my staff, and hopefully my staff is better than me so we will have a smooth-functioning District,” Rosendahl said in 2005. “My number-one job is constituent services.”
That year, he also spoke at Pacific Palisades Residents Association’s annual meeting, addressing some residents’ desire to create a dog-friendly park. In March 2006, he attended PRIDE’s Marquez Avenue ceremony, joining community leaders Kurt Toppel and Bob Jeffers for a street beautification ceremony. And he subsequently appeared at Marquez business block parties throughout his terms.
In May 2007, Rosendahl approved a $13.8-million budget expanding key police and city services in his district and, in January 2008, he honored firefighters who squashed a blaze destroying three townhomes on Michael Lane in the Highlands.
Rosendahl proved a ubiquitous presence at local fundraisers and was a frequent guest at Palisades council meetings and community-minded gatherings, such as the Del Rey-based Argonaut newspaper’s annual Best of the Westside celebration of West L.A. merchants and individual achievers.
No stranger to health issues, Rosendahl was also a champion of medical marijuana and blasted the hypocrisy of various politicians and movers and shakers who created obstacles or politically motivated shakedowns of dispensaries.
In July 2012 as Rosendahl began to contemplate running for a third term, he had been diagnosed with stage-four ureter cancer. At the time, doctors believed Rosendahl had mere months to live. The councilmember endorsed his chief of staff at the time, Bonin, to succeed him.
However, after a battery of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Rosendahl told the Post in February 2013 that his cancer was in remission.
Rosendahl’s Mar Vista residence famously had a bohemian air to it. Cats such as Rocky and Black Lady lived indoors alongside his finches, while hens (from which he harvested his breakfast eggs) occupied his backyard next to a statue of St. Jude, patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. Other pets included his German shepherd Lulu.
Rosendahl, who loved to cook, could make a mean turkey leg and stuffing, but, as a diabetic, he avoided sweets.
Rosendahl was often a contradiction. He was close friends with many of LA’s wealthiest and most prominent citizens while befriending some of the most desperate and downtrodden denizens in his own home, even sheltering them in his own house.
For years, Rosendahl opened his home to those in need, including groups of homeless teens and individuals suffering from drug addiction.
Several years ago, he took in a young heroin addict disowned by his family and 15 years ago, he took in an ailing person known as Swami X, who lived with Rosendahl and received care under his roof for more than 15 years.
Rosendahl will be remembered as an upbeat, energetic people person who truly cared about his constituents and who exhibited much kindness, wisdom and a beyond-average generosity of heart, spirit and compassion.
As Rosendahl told the Post in 2013, “I live by the general philosophy that if you love yourself and your neighbor as yourself, and you don’t judge, then you pretty much encompass all of humankind.”
A celebration of Rosendahl’s life is scheduled for Saturday, April 16 at 2 p.m. at Mar Vista Park. RSVP at 11thdistrict.com/remembering_bill.
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