This is Part II of a series—Part I: Close Develops SOHA Into Valley's Leading Forum
“In my opinion, [Richard Close is] the most powerful private citizen in the San Fernando Valley, there’s no question of that in my mind,” said longtime friend and Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association Vice President Jules Feir. “He’s got a lot of respect from these politicians.”
Close, as expressed by Feir, is often regarded as the most powerful man in the Valley not in public office. He operates one of the Valley’s most prominent organizations and he maintains relationships with nearly every public official worth mentioning.
The Valley's Most Powerful Man?
“A lot of people say that [I’m powerful],” Close said. “A lot of elected officials say it. But if true, the question is how does someone use his or her power? Any power I use, I use it to do more for Sherman Oaks, in order to get an elected official to look at an issue that’s important to Sherman Oaks. That’s my definition of power.”
Close's high-profile relationships have lead some to say that the SOHA president plays a role in public office without having to answer to constituents.
“I don’t have power to order an elected official to do something," Close said. "All I have is the power to get that person to focus on the problem and hopefully make the right decision. If they don’t make the right decision, in the eyes of our board of directors, we will publicize the mistake that person made.”
Interestingly enough, delegation of power appears to be Close’s strong suit.
“The organization is well run in the sense that a lot of people are doing different things,” said Matt Epstein, co-vice president of SOHA. “He’s a great facilitator. It’s not about power for Richard. It’s about getting things done correctly. He has no interest of going into the political arena, just that things get done.”
Berman often credits Close as the man responsible for sparking the current 405 freeway widening project. Yaroslavsky has been an acquaintance of Close and his wife for 30 years, calling Close a “great lobbyist for the community.”
“What makes him unique is even though he is the president of SOHA, he has a cadre people around him that he delegates real authority,” Yaroslavsky said. “He’s not a micro-manager. He knows they are going to do the job. As a result, he’s a very effective leader of his organization.”
And a job well done, whether its banging heads with a commercial developer or expressing disappointment in a political decision, is his only concern, said Close.
"We’re not a bunch of talkers," Close said. "We’re not afraid to publicize bad politicians. We’re not afraid to sue bad developers. We get things done."
Rumblings in the Sherman Oaks community have painted SOHA as an all-powerful or bully organization in the neighborhood.
Scott Killeen, a 19-year resident of Sherman Oaks, has often publicly expressed his displeasure with SOHA here in the comments section on Patch. In his opinion, SOHA has become a "dictatorship" under Close.
Killeen's chief accusation is that SOHA does not represent the opinions of its members, but rather of its seven members of its board.
“The main problem is the board because they do what they want," Killeen said. "They don’t act as the group, the board decides on everything. It’s very one-sided. It has nothing to do with the 2,000 family membership. It frustrates me that people don’t stand up against them. They truly are afraid because they know Richard’s power.
"They’ve done positive things, no doubt about it. They've planted trees on Ventura Boulevard and they hold toy drives. That’s fantastic. But if they’re so fantastic, why do we have problems that we have? Look at the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association as compared to the Studio City one. Their homeowners group is just as good. But they don’t get the publicity because their president isn’t Richard Close."
Close, who has been in his presidential post since 1976, hears the criticism surrounding him and SOHA. He attributes it to operating an organization which represents a large faction of community members.
“We're used to criticism and it normally comes from the business community and developers that would like to see highrises on Ventura Boulevard," Close said. "But the fact that we keep growing indicates that our point of view represents the community.”
As far as fearing "the power" of SOHA, Close does not agree with the notion that overwhelming power belongs to his organization.
“People ask, if you don’t contribute money or control votes, how is SOHA so prominent and looked to by elected officials," Close said. "The answer is because we represent a balanced point of view. Our goal is to enhance our community. There shouldn’t be any fear of SOHA. We’re just a homeowners association trying to protect our community.”
Learn more about Close in this Patch video profile from Jan. 8, 2011: Sherman Oaks Leaders: Richard Close