The Mountains’ Queen of the Hill

Reprinted from Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s Blog

Kim Lamorie and Wolfie in the landscape she's loved, and worked to protect, for decades.

Thirty years ago, Kim Lamorie took her first hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. As the 54-year-old activist recalls it, it was love at first sight.

“The sweeping open space, the majestic ridgelines—it made me breathless,” remembers Lamorie, who in those days was a twentysomething working in production on the Canadian “SCTV” comedy TV series.

“I came from a part of Canada that was flat, and here were these spectacular mountains in this heavily populated urban area. I thought it was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen in my life.”

The producing gigs came and went, but the allure of the mountains never faded. Today, Lamorie—named “Woman of the Year” this week for the 3rd District—is the president of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation, Inc., one of the mountains’ most powerful, active and far-reaching advocacy groups.

“Where I live, you can see the sun rise and the sun set over the mountains,” she says. “I see coyotes, deer, mountain lions, owls, hawks, roadrunners. When you live here, you’re just so motivated to preserve it, because you know that once this treasured habitat is gone, it’s gone for good.”

In many ways, she says, environmental activism comes naturally to her. Born in Toronto, she grew up on the shore of Lake Erie in Crystal Beach, a Canadian resort community.

“Unlike in California, which has the Coastal Commission, all of the beachfront was privately owned,” says Lamorie. “From the earliest age I can remember, my family was battling the private property interests to get public beach access. My uncle still has an organization called Shorewalk in Crystal Beach.”

Environmental concerns, however, weren’t such a priority during Lamorie’s twenties, when her job at the Second City theater troupe’s TV sketch comedy series, “SCTV,” brought her to California. (“We set up offices at one point to write in Studio City and then went back to Toronto to shoot the episodes,” says Lamorie.)

Lamorie worked on the show’s syndication package in 1984 after “SCTV” stopped shooting, and ended her stint as an associate producer of a follow-up special. But eventually, like the show’s famed cast, from Martin Short to John Candy, Lamorie moved on.

And when her daughter, Krista, was born 17 years ago, Lamorie scaled back her involvement in show business.

For more than 20 years, Lamorie and her family have lived in a 3-bedroom house in the Santa Monica Mountains, on a hilltop near Calabasas that, like the mountains, she loved on sight. It was that affection, she says, that launched her activism.

“There was a development project that the local Calabasas Highlands Homeowner’s Association was fighting,” she remembers. “They were bulldozing over magnificent oak woodlands and scrub oak habitat, and you become protective of the place you live in, so I started to get active. And as soon as I met the activists in the Federation, I thought. ‘Oh. My. God. They’re just like me.”

Over the years, Lamorie has assumed ever greater leadership roles, first as a delegate, then as vice-president and then as president of the Federation, which advocates on policy on behalf of mountain communities spanning the Las Virgenes Valley.

Fellow activists say her fact-based approach and infectious energy have not only boosted involvement, but focused disparate constituencies on critical missions, from protecting oak woodlands and water quality to curbing development on pristine ridgelines. Last year, the Federation sent busloads of residents to testify against a redistricting plan that threatened to put the mountains into the same district as the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“That job is like herding cats, but herding cats with a purpose,” says Steve Hess, an engineer and small business owner from the unincorporated community of Cornell who spent four years, from 2003 through 2006, at the helm of the Federation. “Kim has taken the Federation to the next level and given it a louder voice.”

“She not only knows all the facts on an issue, but she knows how to get things accomplished,” agrees Nancy Rothenberg, a neighbor of Lamorie and former president of the Calabasas Highlands HOA.

“She’s very savvy. And she has an encyclopedic mind for all the minutiae you need to know to effect any change.”

In a speech this week accepting the Woman of the Year honor, Lamorie credited her progressive Swedish mother and her fellow activists, “the real stewards and warriors who are not motivated by money, power or greed, but who are driven to preserve something so undeniably valuable.”

Next on her agenda? Protecting the California Environmental Quality Act from what she skeptically refers to as “quote-unquote ‘modernization’.”

And her opponents shouldn’t underestimate her, says Mary Ellen Strote, vice president of the Federation.

“Like any good leader, she picks her battles,” Strote says. “But no matter how powerful or well-funded her opponent, when the stakes are the Santa Monica Mountains, she never backs down.”

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Kim Lamorie at awards ceremony this week.

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