Meet Brian Morrison: Los Feliz’s Eco Warrior
How One Man Makes His Mark on a Los Angeles Neighborhood.
Brian Morrison is Co-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and active member of the Los Feliz Business Improvement District. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Morrison back in February 2020 to chat about his work, Los Feliz and the neighborhood’s future.
Morrison is a conduit for change. He prefers bikes to cars, sustainable to recyclable and familiar faces to corporations. He proves that communities are fought for, they don’t simply happen. His weapons of choice? Passion and charisma. He is a friendly crusader - equipped with awareness, understanding and initiative. Earth’s very own vigilante.
Rachel Hallett: So first thing’s first, how do you pronounce Los Feliz? Is it LOHS feh-LEEZ or LAHS FEE-liz?
Brian Morrison: I say LOHS feh-LEEZ. But there’s no wrong. What the LA Times said is that you can say LOHS feh-LEEZ, which is the original Spanish pronunciation. You can say LAHS FEE-liz, which is the Anglicized version. Either is okay!
RH: What distinguishes Los Feliz from other neighborhoods in LA?
Morrison: The most fantastic thing for me is how walkable it is. I really think it feels like a small town in a big city.
RH: You've played a major role in building the neighborhood over the past couple years. What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment on the council thus far?
Morrison: I’m really proud of our Film & Focus series which is our lecture and screening events that we do at the Los Feliz Movie Theater. For our most recent event, someone from Disney came to talk about Walt Disney’s early life in Los Angeles - in Los Feliz, he lived here - and we showed Snow White. We’ve had people come in from NASA and showed ET. We had someone come in and speak about hacking, then we showed The Matrix. It was the first thing that I got involved with in the neighborhood council, I feel like this is something that I really helped pull together with the help of my Co-Chair Nello [DiGiandomencio].
I’m also a member of the Environmental Affairs Committee. Through this committee, I was able to increase awareness and participation in the residential composting program. That was really exciting for me.
I’m a member of the Business Committee. I helped them put on the Holiday Market, we’ve really grown that over the years. And through that I became a member of The BID, the Los Feliz Business Improvement District, another organization. And then of course there’s the mural on the Albertsons, which is probably my favorite.
We will be finishing the last corner of the mural on March 8th. It’s the area where, if you remember, there used to be a Wells Fargo sign. The city said ‘We’ll approve your mural, but it can’t be around the Wells Fargo sign, because it can’t look like an ad for Wells Fargo.’
Now the sign is gone. So before they can quickly put up a sign for the new thing that’s coming in...Which I bet you can guess what that’s going to be…We’re going to finish the upper right hand corner.
RH: What’s going in there?
Morrison: What do we have too many of already...it’s a coffee place.
RH: But there’s a Starbucks two blocks away?
Morrison: I know. So at least we’ll be able to finish painting before it all goes in there.
RH: What do you feel are some of the biggest issues that Los Feliz has to face and combat?
Morrison: We are nestled between Sunset Boulevard and Los Feliz Boulevard. which leads to the 5-Freeway. So I would say that automobile traffic will be a serious issue for us in the coming years. As Los Angeles becomes more dense, we’re going to see more and more cars zooming up and down residential streets.
Waze, which was supposed to alleviate some issues, has created different ones. So how can we maintain the integrity of our little town while that happens? I think that’s going to be through promoting alternative methods of transportation.
One of the things that we’re working on in the Cultural Affairs Committee is our joint project with the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council for a bike-in movie that will, tentatively, be at Barnsdall Park. We’re going to be showing Clueless and we’ll be encouraging people to find alternate forms of transportation, including biking and walking.
People were upset that Metro took up two parking spots by Lassens to put in the new bikes, but I’m excited, I’ve been trying to use them and I encourage people to consider them as an option.
RH: Are you ever nervous about being a bicyclist with motorists speeding by?
Morrison: No. Because I know those people don’t want to hit me. I know that they don’t want me to damage their vehicle. I wear a helmet, I think everyone should wear a helmet. But I also behave as much like a car as I can, because people need to get used to it.
As a motorist, when I see a bicycle, I’m terrified! I try to strike fear in the hearts of motorists when I ride a bicycle.
But I also think that bicycles need to follow the law; stop at stop signs and red lights and so on. The more that bicyclists behave like vehicles and force cars to make way for other forms of transportation, the better off we’ll be.
RH: Can you describe a rewarding moment that was a direct result from your work on the neighborhood council?
Morrison: When I finished the mural, I had the mother of a 14-year-old tell me that her daughter had told her that it was the cool new "Instagrammable" spot. That felt really good. I let all the kids who came and painted a piece name that section.
We had a Film & Focus event and a guy from the LA Water System come to speak. Additionally, a bunch of people from the Owens Valley came to share their story. The aqueduct in Owens Valley brings all of the water, about a thousand miles or so, out to LA. The native people of the Owens Valley explained that this is a serious, ongoing issue for them. Los Angeles has drained their ancestral lake. A main source of food for them had been catching the flies on the lake, a huge source of protein. Their lake is now gone because we’ve drained it. That was a really significant thing to learn.
So looking toward the future, we have a huge plot of land here in Griffith Park. We don’t capture nearly enough rain water for drinking usages. In the city of Los Angeles’ sustainability plan, they mention trying to significantly increase the amount of rainwater capture projects. I think that we can do that here.
RH: That seems like such a great idea! Why haven’t they done that yet?
Morrison: There’s a lot to do. The neighborhood council is the smallest unit of government in Los Angeles. We as citizens need to say to the city this is what is important to us.
RH: What are some important aspects that make a community or a neighborhood thrive?
Morrison: So I want to come back at you here, because one of the aspects that makes a neighborhood thrive is community. A piece of land with a bunch of people living separately from one another is different than a community. The fact that we have community here, that people know each other - that’s super important.
I also think mutual respect is crucial. Everyone cares about and listens to what matters to each other, even if they don’t agree. Different people are going to have different views on those issues. I think what’s great about Los Feliz is that we have continued to enrich a culture of caring about each other.
Community spaces are also important. Whether they are private common spaces, like Ye Rustic Inn, or public common spaces like the sidewalk, we see each other. There are a lot of communities in LA where you don’t see people. Here we do.
Another thing I love about Los Feliz are the small businesses. I can go to Palermo where I see Tony, who owns the joint, sitting there, chatting with customers. It speaks to that small town feel. That’s the shit. I want to go to a place where I can look the owner in the eye. We have that here. When you walk into a place that’s a community business - you feel it. We need to start spending money on places that support people not companies.
RH: How do you get the community to care about important issues?
Morrison: It’s important to ask what’s important to people. My job isn’t to figure out what I want, it’s to figure out what people want.
But in terms of how you get acquainted with what’s happening, you can attend a governing board meeting of the neighborhood council. You can also go to a committee meeting. Or just walk around.
Locus of control is this idea where people who grow up without a lot of power or money in their family don’t feel that they have the power to effect change. That’s simply not true. You can walk around your neighborhood and ask yourself what would I change?. Like I hated that wall. So I painted a mural over it. It takes a lot to know that you can do anything.
My goal is more about engaging people in what is important to them. And then eventually you find out that a lot of us feel the same way about things.
RH: What is one thing that an outsider should know about Los Feliz?
Morrison: That it’s a great place and they should come here! They should have dinner at the numerous wonderful restaurants, see a show at the Rockwell. That’s some of the best theater that I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles, here in Los Feliz.
I grew up in Pennsylvania and when I would think about LA, I would think about Hollywood, Walk of Fame, handprints, Hollywood sign, maybe Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive, maybe the beach. I want people to think about Los Feliz. I want people to get on the subway and come here. Go see the house where Walt Disney started the Disney brothers cartoon studio. That’s here. Mickey Mouse was literally created in this neighborhood. I want people to come here to see that.
RH: Where do you see Los Feliz in 5 years?
Morrison: As a tourist destination. As a place that you have to go check out. This is the gem of the city and I want the rest of the world to know.
Interview abbreviated for clarity.
Title photo curtesy of Brian Morrison.