Almost anyone who has owned a local business, been part of a neighborhood group or attended a community event in our area is likely to recognize Alice Roth, either by name, face or reputation. Though she rarely appeared in the spotlight, she played an integral role in Toluca Lake’s civic life for nearly two decades through her dedicated career in public service, including working 15 years in the Council District 4 office on Riverside Drive as an aide to the late Councilmember Tom LaBonge and then to his successor, David Ryu. As she moves on to a position in CD 14 following Ryu’s defeat in the November 2020 election, she looks back on her time in Toluca Lake and bids a fond farewell to the neighborhood that, she says, “has made a profound impact on my life.”
A native Angeleno who attended public and private schools in the metropolitan area and holds a bachelor’s degree in art, Roth worked stints in the floral, restaurant and entertainment industries but was always interested in public service, a value instilled by her parents. “They are my role models, loving, caring, humble, civic-minded individuals who lead the fight for justice for all and have always taught me and my siblings to be kind and to help others,” she says. “My mother was a field representative to a former member of the California State Assembly, and that is what I believe drew me to this line of work.”
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Roth first began serving the Toluca Lake area as a scheduler, executive assistant and then field representative in the California State Assembly District 43 office, encompassing North Hollywood, East Hollywood, Burbank and Glendale. She then moved on to work for the City of Los Angeles as a council district office manager, scheduler, field deputy, district director and chief of field operations. When she started as a field deputy for CD 4, she says, it was the “wonderful and energetic residents who were involved in their community” who helped her really get to know Toluca Lake. “I was given a personal tour of all of the historical properties and introduced to people who resided, owned a business or worked in the neighborhood,” she remembers. “I was so intrigued by everyone who cared about the rich history in the area, which felt like a small village outside Los Angeles. All of the folks made me feel as though it was home.”
Roth describes her role in Toluca Lake as “bringing City Hall to the people.” That involved building relationships with residents and government agencies, holding community meetings, organizing special events, and helping to find solutions to problems and resolve quality-of-life issues. “We had such team spirit among the Toluca Lake residents, merchants, property owners and our Council Office when it came to collaboration toward the positive environment they wanted to see in their community,” she says. Acknowledging the hard work of the personnel at various city agencies who responded to the community’s requests, she adds, “This important partnership is what it takes to get things done.” Getting those things done, making tangible improvements in the lives of constituents, was one of Roth’s favorite aspects of her role. Among her proudest achievements on behalf of the community, she lists “traffic safety measures implemented, roads repaired, ramps for the handicapped, additional lighting, beautification and water conservation efforts, park space and medians, trees planted, L.A. River and community cleanups, Hike for Health and Love a Library for elementary school students, pet safety, open space and recycling, senior fraud awareness, homeless connections — simply taking care of people.”
Another special part of the job was the opportunity to work with a local legend, Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who served CD 4 from 2001 to 2015. “Every day was an adventure working alongside Tom,” Roth says. “He had a dynamic energy that followed him everywhere. He was kind and cared about senior citizens, youth and families in all of the neighborhoods throughout the city. He listened to the needs of his constituents. He helped so many and always reminded his staff about how important our public service role was in this city office.” LaBonge was a lifelong advocate for Griffith Park, championed local history through events such as the re-enactment of the treaty signing at the Campo de Cahuenga, and enthusiastically supported community traditions including Earth Day and Taste of Toluca, Toluca Lake Elementary School student activities, the Pancake Breakfast, National Night Out, Halloween festivities, the Turkey Trot and the Holiday Open House. “I will never forget the time at the Holiday Open House when Tom decided to start an impromptu parade on Riverside Drive,” Roth recalls. “He said, ‘Follow my lead,’ and before we knew it, he, staff and community members were all marching down the street, having the best time celebrating the holiday season and singing Christmas carols together.”
When LaBonge’s term expired, Roth continued her work in the administration of his successor, David Ryu, who maintained the same level of strong support for the community. Describing their working relationship as one of mutual trust and admiration, she says, “David Ryu was very down to earth and respectful, and listened to the needs of his constituents. He did so much to help our unhoused and deliver food to our seniors.” Memories that stand out for her during Ryu’s tenure include community-building events such as the Sherman Oaks Street Fair, the Love Street music festival in Laurel Canyon and the Toluca Lake Food Drive to stock the North Hollywood Food Pantry. Most recently, she notes, as the coronavirus pandemic brought drastic changes in L.A. and across the nation, staff from various civic offices rose to the occasion by operating food distribution sites to help keep struggling families fed on a regular basis. “It was a good feeling to be able to make a connection with these folks and government agencies in order to be able to help,” she says.
The unusual conditions of the pandemic, including the cancellation of community events and in-person meetings, robbed many Toluca Lake residents of the chance to say goodbye to Roth before Ryu left office and she transitioned to a new role in CD 14 as area director for Northeast Los Angeles. As a parting message, she urges everyone to “please stay involved with your neighbors. You have a responsibility to one another to take care of your community of exceptional individuals. I was so proud of the over 100 neighborhood watch groups in Toluca Lake! In the event of an emergency, that connection to your neighbors, your LAPD senior lead officer and your LAFD station will be key to ensuring safety for all. You never know when your positive actions could save a life.”
Roth also reminds residents to keep patronizing local businesses. “You should make it a habit to drop by and visit these exceptional shops in the Toluca Lake Village and the incredibly hardworking merchants,” she says. “There are so many time-honored businesses here, from insurance to specialty gift boutiques, restaurants to realtors, pet groomers to salons. The shops all have a unique and friendly air about them. I guarantee that you will find comfort and excitement in this special Village.”
While she’s full of gratitude about being able to continue her public service work, as well as enjoying family life with her husband and three children, Roth wants her former adopted neighborhood to know how much she misses it. “I will treasure the time I spent with the Toluca Lake community,” she says. “I will always remember the good times, such as Fire Service Day and having pancakes at Fire Station #86, a boat cruise on Toluca Lake, a meeting at the former Bing Crosby estate or a get-together at the former estate of Frank Sinatra, a special luau at Lakeside, gatherings at a sweet boutique on Riverside Drive, Halloween on Forman Avenue, holiday bike rides, the Turkey Trot, community beautification and how we all worked together helping others to make our grand city a better place to live, work and enjoy.”
In closing, Roth says she’d like to thank her husband (“He has been my strong support and encouragement along the way and I truly love and appreciate him”) and innumerable community organizations, including the Homeowners Association, Chamber of Commerce, Property Owners Association, Garden Club, Neighborhood Council, Toluca Lake Elementary School, LAPD North Hollywood Division, LAFD Toluca Lake Fire Station #86 “and all of the committees, religious entities and local media for the cooperation and partnership efforts over the years. I hope to keep the lines of communication open and continue the relationships that we have built together. I think of you often with sincere affection and pray that you are healthy and safe. You are all always in my heart, and I cannot thank everyone enough for their collaboration, generosity and kindness throughout this time that we have shared.”
No doubt, the many community members whose lives Roth has touched return that sentiment.
Remembering “Mr. Los Angeles”
“My favorite memories of Tom LaBonge are keeping up with all of the goodwill that he wanted to spread to people that he knew, to tourists and all who came to visit our great city,” Roth says. “Tom always surprised us with grand opportunities. I found myself meeting consuls general, elected officials, celebrities, musicians, cartoon characters, people from all walks of life one day and then others in need the next. One of my best memories of Tom was the time that he showed up at a Toluca Lake Chamber of Commerce special event when I was humbled and honored to receive the President’s Award from then-President Roy Disney. Tom stood up, microphone in hand, and told the board members and guests how proud he was of me and my work while representing him in the community. I felt very special!”
LaBonge’s sudden passing on January 7, 2021, was a shock to Roth and all of Los Angeles. “He was an extraordinary leader,” she recalls. “He will always be remembered as our city ambassador and be greatly missed. I was so glad to hear that the Mount Hollywood summit in Griffith Park has been renamed the ‘Tom LaBonge Panorama.’ Tom enjoyed hiking in the park every day and meeting all who enjoyed this glorious open space. May the late, great Tom LaBonge rest in peace.”