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The LAist Interview: Rick Orlov

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Los Angeles Daily News reporter and columnist Rick Orlov is a familiar face at City Hall. He should be—he’s covered the City Hall beat since 1988 and has been writing about politics for over 30 years.

Orlov’s columns and articles are required reading for local politicos. He's a straight-shooter, though he says he gets a lot of feedback from readers suggesting he is biased one way or the other. “If you’re covering the circus,” he says, “there’s an assumption you’re either with the elephants or the clowns.”

1. Age and Occupation:

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56. Reporter/columnist.

2. How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and what neighborhood do you live in?

I have lived in Los Angeles since 1960 (when my family moved here from Indianapolis, Indiana). I live on the Westside after growing up in the San Fernando Valley (Portola Jr. High School, Birmingham High School, Valley College and CSUN).

3. How and why did you become a journalist?

I had taken some journalism classes in college where I was a political science major. But I never really thought about news as a career until graduation came and I decided that I didn't want to go on to law school.

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My first job was with the Copley Newspapers, which had six papers around Los Angeles County at the time (1970). I worked at three of them—Monrovia News-Post, San Pedro News-Pilot, and Alhambra Post-Advocate and then went to the Copley News Service Los Angeles Bureau in 1972 to cover the Board of Supervisors.

In 1977, I was approached and went to work for the then-Valley News and Green Sheet, which has recently been purchased by the Chicago Tribune and it was in the process from going from a four-day a week throwaway to a fully paid daily.

Since then, the newspaper had undergone a series of changes with new owners and editors, so it's been like going to work for a different paper without having to leave.

4. As a City Hall reporter, why do you think there isn’t much television coverage of local politics in Los Angeles? Does that have an impact on how the city is run?

It's hard to get television interested in any continuing governmental coverage these days, but I don't think it is entirely their fault.

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For one thing, this City Council has not been particularly aggressive in pursuing the big political policy issues of past councils. Also, television is best in covering issues involving personal conflicts or big ticket items. So they are covering events when there is political controversy or major issues such as the LAX modernization plan.

It does have an impact on voter participation. A lot of people, understandably, are unable to separate city government from county government responsibilities. Also, the lack of television coverage allows our local politicians to get off the hook for responsibility and there is a lack of familiarity with what they do. As a result, they get blamed for things that are not their responsibility as well as not having to take responsibility for those things that are. It ends up with a disconnect that you see where two City Council members are unopposed in the March 8 election and others have only token opposition.

5. Since the Daily News is located in Woodland Hills, many view it as a “Valley paper”. What’s your response?

At its heart, the Daily News is a Valley paper. It is where its history and strength is.

But, in saying that, I think the newspaper represents a core value of middle class sensibilities that are present throughout the city of Los Angeles. It covers issues relating to how government serves them and how people can affect and influence government.

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When he was first elected to the City Council, Mark Ridley-Thomas talked of how he could replicate the actions of San Fernando Valley homeowner groups in becoming active and influencing city policy. The result was the 8th District Empowerment Congress, which continues to have a strong voice. I also think the Valley groups were the model for neighborhood councils that are now written in the city charter.

6. Who are your favorite fellow political writers, local or otherwise?

That's a long list of folks I have worked with and admired, from Bill Boyarsky and Dick Bergholz at the LA Times, and John Marelius at the San Diego Union-Tribune (and formerly of the Daily News). David Broder and Dan Balz at the Washington Post set the highest standards.

7. What's your preferred mode of transportation?

My car, a Pontiac Sunfire convertible. Although the car I wish I still had was a 1975 Mustang II.

8. How often do you ride the MTA subway or light rail?

Usually a few times a month, taking the DASH bus around downtown.

9. What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?

Chinatown.

10. Best LA-themed book(s)?

I like the cop books of Joseph Wambaugh and, more recently, Michael Connelly.

11. In your opinion, what's the best alternate route to the 405?

There is no best alternate route. Beverly Glen to go to the west side and Beverly Hills, the Sepulveda Pass is the most fun to drive, when it's clear, and La Cienega Boulevard or Sawtelle to get to the airport.

12. What's the best place to walk in LA?

Around City Hall. It really looks like a government building is supposed to look, either on the Third Floor rotunda or the 27th floor tower room, where you get a great view. I also like walking around Hollywood. And from the parking lot of any golf course to the first tee.

13. It's 9:30 pm on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?

If it's election season, usually from a debate to home. If it's a regular time, I'm just at home these days. Damn it.

14. If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

Right now. We have more things going on and it's more convenient to communicate and be involved than at any time in history. Other than that, I suppose, like most people, I would chose my coming of age time, the 1970s.

15. What's your beach of choice?

Santa Monica

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

Downtown.

17. If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

Studio City. It has the best of the Valley, the proximity to the city and is close to freeways.

18. What is the city's greatest secret?

I can't tell you. It's a secret.

19. Describe your best LA dining experience.

There are several, depending on the mood. A Pacific Dining Car lunch, Pink's Hot Dogs or Canter's at midnight. Also El Cholo.

20. Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

Las Vegas.