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LAist Interview: Zuma Dogg, Community Activist & Guest Day Editor

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LAist Editor Tony Pierce has blogged here non-stop for more than a year deserving a well-earned vacation (and did he ever earn it). While out of town, we decided to have a little fun and bring some guest day editors in from around the blogLAsphere. Monday we had Green LA Girl and Tuesday saw Fred Camino of MetroRiderLA. Today, get ready for Zuma Dogg who has his own website, but also contributes to Mayor Sam. Yeah, yeah!

1. Age and occupation : Public advocate, entertainer.

2. Hometown: Zuma Beach, CA

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3. Current LA neighborhood: Currently split between Venice Beach and City Hall.

4. How long have you lived in LA, and where?

Long enough for the dreams to have turned into nightmares. Long enough to remember the good old ‘90’s.

5. What made you start showing up to City Council on a consistent basis? What was the instigation?

The ban on sales of Zuma Dogg T shirts and other artists and vendors handmade incense, jewelry, cultural and religious and other first amendment protected mediums of expression items, which by the way a Federal judge seemed to agree that City Council’s ban was illegal and unconstitutional. (As if that ever stops them.) What kept me showing up on a consistent basis, was once I was there, waiting to speak about my Venice issue, I started hearing all the other people’s outcries of the fraud, waste and abuse that was destroying their lives, as well, across the board, across the city. Before ZD at City Hall, I was strictly comedy, singing, dancing…I didn’t know the mayor’s name and never heard the word “density” outside of science class in high school. And it took me a few public comments before I could say LAUSD. So we refer to it as “the Pandora’s Box of Zuma Dogg” that was unleashed because of City Council’s bad karma.

6. What's the best thing that has happened since you started doing community activism?

And their bad karma, has been my good karma. Because just like Zuma Dogg was sent to City Council to work on them; it now appears that community was sent to ZD to work on me. The answer to that question is easy, and it’s the bug that bit me, that keeps me squeezing out one more day of activism. The diversity of community spirit that I have experienced over the past year and three months since I first arrived at City Hall. People started to approach me inside council chambers, and tell me they see me speaking about Venice on TV, and could I please mention (insert shady issue here affecting them), so I felt that was an honor and a lot of those people are now my best friends who I speak with on a day to day basis – and they are all people I previously would have walked right past without a second glance, about a year ago. And the fact that at the same time, I have been living on the street, means I spend a lot of time with the most diverse mix of people in the city, and the fact that a lot of people recognize me, is a great icebreaker to meet people, and then they tell me something I didn’t know before through their stories and then I take it to the blog and public comment. The best thing to happen to me is how the people of Los Angeles have tutored and mentored me on all these issues. I’m good at re-capping it in two minutes on the radio or TV, but the people feed me everything, for the most part.


7. Any down sides?

I’m miserable! Remember, I walked into City Hall because they took away my income when their B.S. ordinance went into effect. And in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been attending a painful majority of council meetings since then, and all the committee meetings and community meetings I have attended, and all the thousands of minutes on the phone each month speaking with people and the internet research then the time it takes to type it all up and blog it – PLUS; the hours on hold calling in to radio…and it’s obvious why I’m so broke. I got waaaaaaaay too caught up in all of this. There is an energy pattern I can’t break out of because of the feedback of the community I experience on the street everyday. It’s impossible to walk away from. I went to City Hall as a one time visit at the request of my fellow Venice vendors…and look what happened. EVERY DAY IS MY LAST DAY! EVERY CALL IS MY LAST CALL! EVERY BLOG POST IS MY LAST POST! We can both only hope, sometime soon, everyone is saying, “Hey, where’s Zuma?” And hopefully, I’ll be at Neptune’s Net at Ventura County line not thinking of a certain fifteen people and that other guy. It’s all driven by bitterness. I NEVER want to go to City Hall, but then I think, “Damn it…they are sooooo happy when I don’t show up, I can’t let them off the hook!” “People are watching. There’s a HUGE item on the agenda that needs some additional info put “on the record.” Every day I go to sleep saying my advocate days are over. And I wake up and say, “Which way is the beach?” Then I walk past the newsstand and see a headline. Or turn on the radio and hear Doug McIntyre or look at the traffic and then my cell phone rings, and it’s another City Hall shady bamboozle at the neighborhood level…and I’m hopping on the bus, ready to drop from lack of nutrition and no sleep and that’s it! I haven’t listened to FM music radio in months. No kick back and watch TV for months. No karaoke (my favorite pastime) for months. And I can’t look at a thing in the city that doesn’t unleash the ZD, so I’m in “advocate mode” 16 hours a day. I used to hang out at night clubs and channel surf all the dumb channels and listen to music. This time, last year, it was much more balanced, and I still did a lot of all those other things, too. Now my life is waaaaaaaay too narrow. I’ve become the one-dimensional character I used to portray. So yeah, the fact that the whole thing has been such it’s turned into a curse is a downside, even though I love every second of the process.

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8. Any recommendations to people who are yearning to speak up to local government?

Yes, do it! Point is. If I didn’t feel there was effectiveness toward all of the community’s efforts (and there is a “network” of community leaders and activists who all know each other and three-way call each other and email. They all know who they are, and we all help each other toward the same common goal of civic improvement. (To put it mildly.)

When we look back over the past year, or so; new laws have been created, old laws are being followed, first amendment issues at City Hall itself (see Brown Act) have been hammered out, a lot of people’s eyes have been opened and this new electronic era has been a big help. When I made my first appearance at City Hall in April ’06, no one had really heard of youtube (and even less had actually seen it.) Now I have people coming up to me that have only seen me on youtube. And the fact that people stop me on the street everyday, all over the city, from East LA to Venice tell me they see me or hear me means that it is working. Especially when they take time to tell me their stories.

And with AM talk radio, City TV 35, blogs and added media. They don’t make these changes all the time (and I say none of the time) because they WANT to, they make these changes because they have to out of the public pressure, not only from constituents, but from their cronies, associates and superiors.

9. Are we seeing a new Zuma Dogg these days? Any revelations?

I walked into City Hall as a complete outsider, no money, homeless, barely making it in the door – a nobody; going against all the powerful politicians with so much money backing their process…I felt like a real under dogg, with a chip on my shoulder for being the little guy, and for whatever other low-self esteem issues, so I was bitter. And I knew I was running a guerilla warfare campaign attack to get people’s attention. And recently, I just feel that they are so f-ing frustrated over the whole ZD situation at City Hall, and I have seen the things they are trying to do to keep me away…And I just said, “Wow! I am IN the hizzouse! If they weren’t “feeling” the ZD effect, they wouldn’t be this desperate over me. (And I actually did sense desperation.) So that only makes me continue, because why stop now, that I finally may actual be to close to the “hyped” level I used to have to “prove”. So now, it’s like being aware someone is watching you chew your food. If I have a platform like people are trying to convince me, which is hilarious to me, this started off as an Andy Kaufman style thing…and now it’s cross the line to serious issues and become real, then forgetting about trying to address each and every agenda bamboozle, one item at a time, what are some of the bigger picture universal concepts I can try and address to make the most effective use of all the focus. So besides my delivery evolving to something more people will be more comfortable with, so as to allow more people to absorb the message – I will be presenting some new material that I know will surprise just about everyone (ZD proponents and opponents alike.) I posted a lot of it at “Zuma’s Master File”.

10. Which city departments or offices are the best at serving the citizens of Los Angeles?

I don’t have a chance to see what departments are best serving the citizens of Los Angeles, because I am blinded by the blizzard of shadiness that has the avalanche of fraud, waste and abuse crushing down upon the citizen’s of Los Angeles. All the departments work together in what ZD considers to be counterproductive and undermines any “best” anything.

11. Which city departments need to go and be built back up again?

The department of the mayor needs to go. LAUSD is like a Steven King horror story to begin with, and I have some serious concerns over the new Monica Garcia presiding school board. So LAUSD, but that ain’t a city department is it, y’all? I DON’T LIKE ANY OF THE CITY DEPARTMENTS…THEY’RE ALL SHADY AND CORRUPT, Y’ALL…CITIZENS’ ALERT…CITIZENS’ ALERT!!! IF THEY ARE UNDER THE MAYOR, BEWARE! (I like the ring of that!)

12. The Mayor just said "Zuma, I'm giving you any job you want at City Hall that you want." You say...?

Director of Quality and Productivity.

13. What is your favorite book about LA?

What are my choices. I didn’t read “Chinatown” but everyone tells me I should, since I started to talk about the City’s housing policy.

14. Describe your best LA dining experience.

My best LA dining experience is 7-11 or Ralphs. However, I would like it to be at a restaurant. All you can eat sushi bar will always be the #1 choice.

15. LA has the best...

Atmosphere. The ocean and mountains are why I am here.

16. You haven't really lived in LA until...

City Council violates the constitution and city charter and they steamroll over your life.

17. What is your LA pet peeve?

When I am still standing on the sidewalk, waiting to cross the street, and drivers slam on their brakes and stop traffic to let me cross. Plus everything else I set my eyes on, or hear.

18. What is the "center" of LA to you?

I like Ventura County line. But if you come to LA, you have to go to Venice Beach. It’s got the most culture, diversity, everything! I decided to move here while rollerblading down the bike path.

19. It's 9:30pm on a Thursday. Where are you, and where are you going?

These days, at the computer on the phone talking to my advocate friends, listening to Kevin James most evenings (hello, Mr. K, too…he said, “9:30pm, not 6:30pm). But last year, it would have been karaoke, for sure.

Photos from Zuma Dogg's MySpace Page.