July 18, 2013
By Cora Jackson-Fossett
LAWT Religion Editor
Economic development and community empowerment define the city career of Valerie Lynne Shaw. During her 20+ years of service, she has garnered a distinctive list of accomplishments focused on improving the quality of life for the residents of Los Angeles, particularly in South L.A.
As the longest serving woman in the history of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, Shaw was instructed to vacate her position this month. Mayor Eric Garcetti has appointed former Assemblyman Mike Davis as her replacement.
Although her physical presence on the Board will be missed, her legacy will live on through her myriad of groundbreaking achievements as a commissioner.
Among her many successes, Shaw says she’s most pleased about her work as coordinator of the 2008-2013 South Los Angeles Initiatives where she played a lead role in organizing and implementing the economic development strategic plan.
The Initiative, led by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilmembers Bernard Parks, Jan Perry, Herb Wesson, Janice Hahn and Joe Buscaino, focused on completing projects to improve housing, retail, industrial, infrastructure, jobs and workforce development, business development and public education.
“Through the South L.A. Initiatives, we brought together the political strata, city departments and the community to collectively operate in the interest of the entire region. The city invested $650 million in South L.A., more than 6,000 jobs were created as a result of the projects,” said Shaw.
As a commissioner, she was also instrumental in initiating and securing the city’s first Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on a major construction project with local hire and training program components.
“The PLA was applied to the $270 million East Central Interceptor Sewer project, the largest public works project in the history of the Department of Public Works. The local hire element, based on ZIP Codes, afforded jobs to local people and associated training. We also worked closely with the unions to ensure South L.A. residents were part of the process,” recalled Shaw.
In the area of community enhancements, Shaw has reached out to thousands of South Angelinos to explain how to access city services to develop their neighborhoods.
“I’ve spoken with religious leaders, neighborhood councils, and professional associations, all in the interest of trying to help them to learn the power matrix inside City Hall.”
As for her motivation, Shaw declared, “I’m just passionate about assisting all efforts that lead to the overall improvement of the South L.A. region. I’ve worked to assist South L.A. nearly all of my entire professional life because I care so much about its people. My next step will be to continue operating in interest of South L.A.”
Shaw credits her parents with inspiring her to public service. Her late father, Leslie, was the first African American postmaster in Los Angeles and her retired mother, Ann, was a noted community and social activist from the 1960s through the mid-1990s.
“My parents were always involved in politics and public life. Also, my mentors included Agnes Leatherwood, Martha Brown Hicks, and my grandmother, Sarah White. They have all passed on but during their time, they really influenced me. They were all strong women who were passionate about their families and the community.”
Embracing those same concerns, Commissioner Shaw co-founded the city’s Community Beautification Grant Program that disbursed 1,429 grants totaling $13 million in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles since the program’s inception in 1998.
In 2005, she extended her campaign to help others by establishing the Public Work’s ‘Hurricane Katrina Assistance Program’ where city employees and labor unions raised over $75,000 to assist seven families who were relatives of Department of Public Works’ employees.
As Shaw moves towards a new chapter in life, she plans to devote more time to assisting the people of South Los Angeles.
“I know that any group can be as powerful as it wants to be,” she noted. “The more enlightened and organized South L.A. residents become, the more powerful they will become in terms of receiving resources from city government.”