Catching Up with Lorie Zapf: City Council rep working ‘to get things done!’ in Pacific Beach

Lorie Zapf, age 59, represents the communities of Bay Park, Morena, Midway/North Bay, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach and Point Loma on the San Diego City Council. She plans to run for a second term in 2018. She’s lived in Bay Ho (near Clairemont) for 17 years with her husband, Eric, and two musical daughters Tana, 18, (a freshman at San Diego State University) and Myla, 16, in high school. The family also includes a “14-pound lovable, sweet dog named Macy.”

Zapf serves as Chair of the City’s Economic Development & Intergovernmental Relations Committee and is a member of the City’s Public Safety & Liveable Neighborhoods and Infrastructure Committees, in addition to serving on the boards of SANDAG and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS).

An outdoor enthusiast, Zapf often partners with the San Diego River Park Foundation and I Love a Clean Diego in river, canyon and beach clean-up efforts. Her experience as a foster child instilled in her a passion to help disadvantaged children and she’s been a volunteer with organizations that help abused, neglected and/or foster youth.

During her previous career, she worked as a news reporter in the Reno/Tahoe area, a video producer, public relations manager in Colorado, and director of a non-profit fighting frivolous lawsuits. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Cal State University Northridge and a Master’s Degree in Marketing Communication from the University of Denver.

Zapf was born in Los Angeles. Her mother and sister are deceased. Her father and brother live in the area. Her mother was a first-generation Mexican-American. Her father was a musician. She met her husband in Colorado, when he was on vacation from San Diego. They had a long distance relationship, and when her department closed down, she took a buy-out and moved here, to be with him.

How did you get into politics?

As a broadcast journalist, I was always drawn to the places where things were happening that impacted people’s real lives ... regional planning, airport authority, hospital board. Of my news coverage, I always thought, “How can I make these issues interesting and relevant to people?’ I was a news junkie, and in college, even when waitressing, I always had a copy of Time or Newsweek under my arm or in the back break room, along with a highlighter and dictionary. I’m a nerd at heart, better yet, I once heard the term ‘policy wonk,’ and that’s what I am.

When we got married, my husband and I founded Boulder Bar Endurance, a line of food bars sold through Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and such. We were immersed in that. At 40 years old, I had my first child, and after some difficulty, I had my second child at age 43. Our business was all-consuming ... managing a national sales force, the whole office, distributors, production .... it was huge. I told my husband I didn’t want to do this anymore because I waited so long to have children and I wanted to be a really good mom. My mom was a severe alcoholic, she was never motherly, she died in the early ’80s. So even though it was a tough decision to exit the business, we found a buyer, we got lucky.

The years when my girls were in elementary school were my favorite. I did a lot of volunteer work and incorporated them into my life, taking them to meetings where they would color, and watch and learn things. I volunteered with St. Germaine’s Children’s Charity, Angels Foster Family Network, and the USO. I ended up getting involved with my town council, founded our Neighborhood Watch Group, worked with our Girl Scout troop, soccer teams, church and school. One day a friend asked me if I wanted to help Get out the Vote in our neighborhood and so I did, which opened me up to learning more about local politics. When Donna Frye was up in 2006, people were asking me to run, when she was termed out, I agreed to run because I believed I could get things done and I understood the process.

How is the Council job different than you perceived it?

(Laughs heartily) You go in with really good intentions, and mind you I’ve covered government as a news reporter, and yet you don’t know what it takes to deal with nine different personalities, and trying to get something done is harder than you ever thought. It’s frustrating to explain to people what the problem is when they’re yelling at you or crying! The homeless/transients issue, I live here, I get it, but there are laws in place you have to abide by.

People think the Council members are always talking with each other, but we’re all in silos, and when issues come up, because of the Brown Act, we can’t seek each other out to discuss them. We attend the public hearings and work that way.

At lot of interests are at stake with each issue, not necessarily good or bad. Each Council member got elected as I did, they’ve got their constituents, life experiences and all that comes with it. The politicking is not exactly fun — and there’s more of it than I thought — it gets in way of getting things done.

What do you like least about being a Council member?

The hardest part of my job is having to get dressed everyday in the whole regalia — makeup, hair, accessorizing and having the right shoes — Urgh! I think we should have City Council uniforms to make it easy on us! I’m a jeans, boots and T-shirts girl!

What are your impressions of Pacific Beach?

This is a terrific community. I live on the other side of the I-5, and my family comes come here all the time for recreation. But it’s different when you are governing. I didn’t realize, at first, the number of groups all actively working to make the community better — Discover PB, the planning group, town council, PB Woman’s Club. I was doing all these things in Clairemont, so I understand where they’re coming from. My philosophy is “from the bottom up,” working at the grassroots level to get things through bureaucracy.

For instance, the Clean & Safe program. Discover PB got the program together hiring extra security guards at bar break, getting clean-up crew through Urban Core, paying homeless people to talk with other homeless people on a relate-able level to get them services. The program needed a certain amount of money and I was able to get $20,000 to contribute.

Same thing with the Bait Bike Program. The number of bikes stolen in the beach communities is tremendous. There are chop shops all over the place, especially the San Diego river bed. With a GPS device embedded in the frame of a fairly expensive bike, police can track the theft happening in real time and catch and prosecute criminal — 100 percent of the time! I contributed a few thousands to help pay for the GPS devices and I bought a bait bike for them. That’s rewarding when I’m able to get resources into the community.

Same goes for the security cameras in Ocean Beach to cut down on the assaults. That’s the stuff I ran for office to do!

What’s the latest on the vacation rentals issue?

It’s one of the most difficult issues I’ve come across, frankly. What’s happening is that there’s just so many out-of-town people (investors) who are buying up properties, specifically for turning them into rentals. We’re talking out of both sides of our mouth when we say we have a housing crisis, and then we’re allowing unlimited homes to become rentals.

It’s a tough issue because we have nine City Council members weighing in (the District 1 and District 2 reps in the most-affected beach communities feel one way) and we have other Council members who are the completely opposite, who feel anyone should be allowed to do whatever they want with their house. Former Council member Sherri Lightner and I never had the votes to get the restrictions in place we thought were moderate, common sense. I’m no longer on the committee so I’m not sure what will happen next.

My big thing is single-family residential zoning. As a City you have a covenant, contract with residents so they can live in a safe, peaceful neighborhood. People have rentals, but I say, ‘well, you knew when you bought this what the zoning restrictions were.’ And here’s the other maddening thing, we’ve had two vastly different City Attorney opinions on it, but at end of the day, you need five Council votes and the concurrence of the City Attorney and support from the Mayor’s office.

What are the other tough issues in Pacific Beach?

The big one is crime. I’ve done a few ride-alongs with police officers to see things from their perspective. I was amazed to discover that there are a lot of people on our boardwalk with warrants out for their arrest! The Quality-of-Life teams keep an eye on transients; these officers go up and just talk to them to get a gauge, and look them up to see who they are. In one case, the officer found out the transient was wanted for a felony out-of-state and off they went.

When I went out with the police cruising Garnet and Mission Boulevard at bar break, I saw how valuable proactive policing is. Just the presence of police makes people straighten up, and when there’s no police presence things get out of hand. When you’re down police officers, as we are on the San Diego force, proactive policing is eliminated because the available police are busy reacting to incidents. It is a priority of mine to do what’s necessary to get and retain more police officers.

Another PB issue: Because it’s an older community, the infrastructure (especially the streets and sidewalks), are in need of repair. The City has several projects planned as part of its Climate Action Plan.

What can residents expect from your office?

We had an incident with a home on Hornblend Street that became a tent city with 30-40 people living in the backyard with no plumbing or electricity, they were aggressive, stealing, beating a neighbor, using drugs in the front yard. The neighbors came to me stating that the police were there several times to scatter the transients, but they always came back. My office teamed with the City Attorney to get a cease-and-desist order, and we ended up clearing them out of there. That was huge for the whole community. These are things I want people to call my office to report, so problems don’t escalate and get way worse. I have such a committed staff. They’ll come out to check out a huge pothole, or a tree branch that’s touching electrical wires.

On a lighter note, what’s your favorite color?

Purple.

What are your favorite comfort foods?

Spaghetti and meatballs!

What clothing item in your closet will you never part with?

They’d have to really wear down, and still I would salvage them as best I could, but I absolutely love my black boots. I’m trying to preserve them as much as possible.

What do you do for fun?

I love bike riding and I love it more when the girls are with me. I also love hiking and just kicking back with a book and a good cup of coffee and having nobody talk to me or interrupt me.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

(Laughs heartily) Product. Product. Product! I don’t pull on my eyes — ever! I use serum and pat it into my skin. I’m just trying to preserve myself as long as I possible can. And having been a complete sun-worshipper in the ’70s, baby oil with iodine turns you a really dark tan, it’s catching up with me.

I was walking the dog early this morning and I was thinking ‘Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise.’ Do I want to consume an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? Heck yeah! But do I? No! But I do allow myself to indulge a little bit so I don’t feel deprived! (Secret: I love raw, chocolate chip cookie dough.)

What kind of music do you listen to?

I’m stuck in the ’70s and ’80s; I love The Eagles, Jackson Browne ... I like Big Bands, too. Recently, we were playing Herb Alpert tunes and the Best of Cher.

What’s something people don’t know about you?

I spent over a year backpacking around the world in 1988 — from hiking the Himalayas to scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. I quit my job as TV news reporter, sold everything and put the large stuff in storage to do so. ... If I could share one message with kids who have a rough start in life, like I did, that message would be the circumstances you’re born into don’t define you. You can become whomever you want to be!

How will you mark your 60th birthday next year?

I would absolutely love to go rafting and camping in the Grand Canyon.

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