Marissa Christiansen is the Executive Director of Friends of the LA River (FOLAR). Prior to FOLAR, she held roles in policy, advocacy and development at XPRIZE and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, among others. Her deep abiding love for LA began at USC where she earned her Master’s in Urban Planning [fight on]. Her inner compass and lifelong passion for counter-culture has magnetized her to the nonprofit world. A proud California native, her primary inspiration is the beauty of our natural landscape – gripped by color and texture, obsessed with the unexpected and overlooked. So to help guide the movement centered on LA’s most diversely textured and inconspicuously beautiful resource is basically her dream come true.
Andrea describes herself as a pragmatic idealist and left her early years in investment banking/consulting to bring appropriate business acumen to the task of social and environmental change. She is excited by bold, scalable solutions to systemic challenges. Andrea fell in love with the L.A. River on a tour of it with FOLAR founder Lewis MacAdams. Since then, she has been annoying everyone at FOLAR with her insistence that Long Beach is the center of the universe. When Andrea is not analyzing spreadsheets and creating policy and budgets for FOLAR, she can usually be found near or in the ocean with her husband and their young son.
One of Shelly’s earliest memories is catching a bird in her bare hands. After a weekend birding trip to Mono she was hooked. It’s just one of the reasons she is so passionate about plans and projects that re-create wetland habitat along the Los Angeles River. Shelly shares this enthusiasm at any opportunity whether it’s leading a tour, running a field trip activity with elementary school children or meeting a community member on the Los Angeles River Rover. If you see Shelly out on the River don’t be surprised to hear her squeal, “Oh, look! There’s an osprey!” and she’ll talk about what it was like being out on the River with biologists during FOLAR’s first fish study. She knows that a swimmable, fishable, boatable Los Angeles River is possible, just ask her about what the time she fell out of a kayak in the Glendale Narrows.
Ivana was born and raised in Southern California, with a brief stint at a young age in her family’s native northern Mexico. Both regions inspired an early love for all things nature – from the wildlands just a stone’s throw away from either city, to the urban wildlife that calls Los Angeles home. Inspired by this love, she graduated from USC with a degree in environmental studies and was part of a pioneering team that helped launch the Audubon Center at Debs Park, an environmental education center in Northeast LA. Today, you’ll find Ivana connecting donors to FOLAR’s mission, often on a kayak, immersing them in the River’s beauty.
Chris is an LA native who grew up in near the River and developed a passionate love for all things Los Angeles. He’s dedicated to public service and has worked with organizations from his old high school’s Science Bowl Team to the American Red Cross. At FOLAR you can find Chris working to keep the community connected to FOLAR’s work. Whether it’s working up with the Policy team to activate the community in the fight for river restoration or putting out the call to gather for the next big LA River event, Chris in the middle of the action.
Native Angelino, Johanna has lived her entire life in her beloved birth city. In the midst of earning her Psychology degree from Antioch University, Johanna took a course on the Los Angeles River. The course exposed Johanna to a bounty of interesting facets of The River and more importantly, the effects The River has on the lives of Angelenos. She fell head over heels in love with the Los Angeles River and her commitment to the LA River was born. The Frog Spot was inspired and born of Johanna’s desire to marry the Los Angeles River with the community through art, music, local history and native culture. Johanna has also curated Fandango since conception and been on all efforts to grow the Great LA River CleanUp: La Gran Limpieza.
As Policy & Advocacy Manager, Stephen helps support and lead the execution of FOLAR’s policy and advocacy initiatives. As a native Angeleno, Stephen places special emphasis on the inclusion of underserved communities in environmental discourse. For the past 5 years he’s worked throughout LA County building watershed literacy, inspiring local stewardship and empowering community voices of all ages in local watershed planning efforts. He’s pretty stubborn about the connection between social and environmental health, the importance of acknowledging injustice, and the strength of optimism and hope. When he’s not being dramatic, you can find him riding his bike, exploring the city or some hidden park. He’s also a sucker for board games, maps, street art, food, and good company.
For the past decade, Mr. Bowling has been working at FOLAR on various River projects. From managing fish studies to creating the First-Ever catch and release fishing derby on the L.A. River to presentations on river history, you can really ask him anything. William provides support for educators from K to College by bringing a detailed river curriculum followed by a visit from FOLAR’s mobile museum, the Los Angeles River Rover to schools and community events within the watershed. You may also find him hosting several River tours each year; in person and in Virtual Reality.
Galina grew up in Northern California, and developed a reverence for nature among our great state’s rivers, lakes, and ancient forests. Prior to joining FOLAR, Galina worked for the Downtown Women’s Center in LA’s Skid Row. She joined DWC’s development team in the throes of a 35m dollar capital campaign which ultimately provided 71 new units of permanent supportive housing for homeless women. Over three years at DWC, she recognized her passion for nonprofit development and its essential power to enact positive change. She loves the tranquility the River brings amidst the bustling city, and enjoys bird watching along its banks. You can find Galina writing grant proposals and working with donors, in service to a shared vision of a healthy, dignified LA River for generations to come.
Alexandra is an administrative assistant for Friends of the LA River. She was one of many Angelenos who didn’t know a Los Angeles River existed, but as soon as she was introduced she fell in love with the beauty of it. Inspired by all of the dedication and passion from Friends of the LA River, she made her way into the family and now proudly works hand in hand with founder Lewis MacAdams and the rest of the FOLAR to continue the artwork that Lewis began.
Liliana has always had a passion for working with the environment, from teaching SCUBA diving to identifying microalgae in a landfill. When Liliana returned home to Los Angeles, after completing her Masters in Europe, her eyes were widened by the lack of access her fellow Angelenos had to nature. Working as the Policy Associate at FoLAR, she is given the opportunity to connect her community with the environment and provide a voice for the River. Liliana is excited to be doing work around the River, as it has infinite opportunities to promote community engagement and bring all Angelenos closer to nature.
Lewis MacAdams is an American poet, journalist, political activist and journalist. In 1986, MacAdams created Friends of the LA River, a “forty-year artwork” to bring the Los Angeles River back to life. In the years since, FOLAR has become the River’s most important and influential advocate, with an E- newsletter and social media that reaches over 60,000 people. Among FOLAR’s many projects are “La Gran Limpieza,” the Great Los Angeles River Clean-Up, the largest urban river clean-up in the United States; a summer length riverfront cabaret, The Frog Spot, that has welcomed nearly 40,000 visitors; a collaboration with the Aquarium of the Pacific, a K-12 “River School” outdoor education curriculum; the “Los Angeles River Rover,” a 38-foot recreational vehicle designed as a mobile classroom; and the first reports on legal access to fishing on the L.A.River. His pamphlet, D-Town Visions: Building A City The River Can Be Proud Of, was published at the beginning of 2008 by The Natural Resources Defense Council. Friends of the LA River was able to organize and lead multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-class coalitions that stopped major riverfront industrial developments leading to the creation of a pair of State parks in the Cornfield and the Taylor railroad yards.
He is currently on the Board of Directors of Friends of the LA River and centers his time on his book Poetry and Politics, a clear depiction of his lifelong work.
Charles has spent his career as an environmental and natural resources attorney, as a manager of businesses in those fields, and in the development of nonprofit organizations. Coming to Los Angeles and a neighborhood abutting the Los Angeles River in 1980, he became interested in the river and its potential while exploring and using adjacent roadways for biking and hiking. Before moving to Los Angeles, his career was spent in public service in Washington D.C., holding policy positions in the Department of the Interior and the Council on Environmental Quality, and working with nonprofit organizations. His work since has spanned businesses in environmental and alternative and conventional energy technology and energy conservation. He graduated from Cornell University Law School in 1970, holds a degree in international relations from the University of Colorado, and served as a U.S. Navy officer. Since associating with FOLAR in 2009, he has worked on policy and legislation to open the river for public access and use and for river restoration.
Paul Keller has over thirty years of experience in real estate and construction industries and is a founding Principal of Mack Urban, LLC. He is involved with the firms’ strategic direction, capital market relationships and tactical management of all Mack Urban investments.
Mr. Keller formerly led Urban Partners, Keller Equity Group, Keller CMS and Keller Construction Company. Mr. Keller and Keller-related entities have been responsible for over 2,000 projects in the continental United States and Hawaii and have provided program development, project and construction management oversight services to a variety of clients on projects valued in excess of seven billion dollars.
Mr. Keller is highly regarded in the industry for his comprehensive grasp of asset and project management details and his ability to match leasing, construction and financing requirements.
Among his activities, Mr. Keller is a member of ULI (Urban Land Institute) Los Angeles Advisory Board; ULI Los Angeles Land Use Leadership Committee; member of The Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs; board member of the L.A. Streetcar Initiative (LASI); board member of FOLAR (Friends of the L.A. River) and a member of the Central City Association of Los Angeles and a board member of Friends of Waterfront Seattle.
Previous community leadership roles include: Chairman of Eimago (formerly Union Rescue Mission Foundation) and former Chairman of the Board of Directors, Seven Arrows Elementary School in Pacific Palisades, California.
M-K O’Connell joined M2O, Inc. as a Managing Director in 2009. The firm invests in growth business, particularly those in which a founder is looking to transition his or her company to the next generation of entrepreneurs. M-K is responsible for meeting with potential entrepreneurs and helping them source acquisition opportunities. He also helps ensure a smooth transition from the founder to the new management team.
When he is not monitoring the progress of portfolio companies, M-K can often be found wandering the trails of Griffith Park with his dog and two children. Of course, you’ll find the whole family plucking refuse from the river at the Glendale Narrows during the annual Grand Limpieza.
M-K received his B.S, magna cum laude, from Boston College and his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania where he was the recipient of the Thomas P. Gerrity Leadership Award.
Mr. Bar-Zemer is the principal at Linear City Development LLC, a real estate development company that focuses on the revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles. Bar-Zemer developed the initial properties that touched off the Arts District and have since led a transformative urban and social process that contributed to a unique urban success story. As a result of his development efforts, the Arts District is considered one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles for residential, commercial, culinary and retail uses alike. In addition, Mr. Bar-Zemer is the landlord partner of several notable restaurants including Bestia, Church & State, and Winsome.
Mr. Bar-Zemer was born and raised in Jerusalem. He attended the Music Academy of Jerusalem (1983-86) and continues to be an avid supporter of the arts here in Los Angeles, particularly jazz and opera, as well as dance and the fine arts.
Mr. Bar-Zemer is a board member of the following organizations: LARABA, ADCCLA, Arts District BID, Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council, Impact Hub LA, the Institute of Field Research, Friends of the LA River, the Institute of Contemporary Art (formerly the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Toy Factory Lofts HOA, the Biscuit Company Lofts HOA, the Design Advisory Committee for the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project, the Technical Advisory Committee for the In-Channel Bike Path and the Preservation Zoning Advisory Committee (ZAC) for re:code LA.
Mr. Bar-Zemer is also the co-founder of the app Kitchen Table, which brings people together to share dining experiences, make memorable meals accessible and easy, and redefine what it means to eat local. Yuval is passionate about the future of cities, in particular about Los Angeles and the possibility of the River connecting residents and inspiring diverse mobility.
Ruth Coleman has held positions in the public and nonprofit sector for twenty-six years. Currently, Ms. Coleman serves as the Executive Director of the Relationship Coffee Institute (RCI), the non-profit affiliate of Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers. In this capacity, she is responsible for overseeing the organization’s operations and managing strategic relationships. In 2013 The Relationship Coffee Institute was selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies to bring its innovative economic Relationship Model of development to low-income rural women based in Rwanda. Ms. Coleman manages multi-year project to improve the livelihoods of 25,000 low-income Rwandan women coffee farmers through training and connecting the farmers to the international market.
Prior to joining RCI, she served for ten years as Director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Earlier in her career she worked for the California Legislature as a fiscal analyst as well as a natural resources policy advisor.
Ruth was a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, Africa. She is a graduate of Occidental College and has a Master in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.
Jennifer Wangers was instrumental in creating Sierra Club Green Home, the first-ever social entrepreneurship model attempted by the Sierra Club in its 124-year history. The purpose of SCGH.com is to enlighten the average American about sustainable practices in their home and daily lifestyle. After running SCGH.com for five years, Jennifer sold the site to digital marketing aggregator Fractl.
Jennifer studied environmental design and sustainability at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Following Art Center, she earned a Masters in Urban Planning and Sustainable Design at the University of California, Irvine. Jennifer is a LEED Accredited Practitioner. Ms. Wangers earned a Fulbright Scholarship in 2013-14 which she performed in Israel to teach a water management at Arava Institute in the Southern Israeli desert. Jennifer is a widely quoted media analyst and was previously a frequent green expert guest on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Away from work, Jennifer follows art and design avidly, serves on the Friends of the L.A. River Board, and is a long time hobbyist pilot trained in a Cirrus SR-22T, Cessna 414 and Beechcraft Duchess multi-engine aircraft.
It is Jennifer’s firm belief that with the right tools and education, women have infinite potential. Entity is founded on the concept that building and refining lifelong skills as well as positive character traits will greatly enhance your future. Suffice it to say, Jennifer is a woman that does.
Alex Ward is an architect with over thirty-five years of experience designing projects from Tokyo and Beijing to Hong Kong and London, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, including airports, churches, private homes, office towers, stage sets and bridges. He has lectured and taught design at schools from the Rhode Island School of Design to Cal Poly Pomona. He has installed solar panels on roofs in underserved neighborhoods for Grid Alternatives. A hiker and bird-watcher and avid student of urban design, he believes that a restored Los Angeles River is a vital part of the future of the city of Los Angeles and region.
Mr. Mihlsten has substantial experience in real estate, regulatory and legislative issues at the local, state and federal level. His work often includes real estate projects and transactions, including securing regulatory approvals for large scale development projects. In addition, Mr. Mihlsten has broad experience in complex regulatory and legislative issues.
His work includes environmental clearances pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition, Mr. Mihlsten has extensive experience in coordinating large teams in connection with these projects including architects, engineers, environmental scientists, community relations and communications specialists, and media relations experts. Mr. Mihlsten also works with many community and business leaders, representatives of organized labor and elected officials in connection with many of these projects and issues.
Projects on which he has advised include studios, resorts, office complexes, mixed use projects, hospitals, high-rise condominium projects, shopping centers, oil fields, refineries, residential projects and sports facilities. Mr. Mihlsten has served on a number of task forces dealing with issues such as housing policies, transportation policies, permit streamlining and environmental review processes.
Councilmember Nestor Enrique Valencia is a champion of social causes, and health care quality and the environment. He is leading reformer of the City of Bell and for good government. He is a regional community leader and expert in managed care. Among other roles and responsibilities in his life, he is a full-time health care administration. He has served as Bell’s Mayor and continues as a member of the Bell City Council in his second-term. He is an alternative on Los Angeles County Democratic Party.
Mia Lehrer leads the ML+A office through the design and development of a diverse range of ambitious public and private projects that include urban revitalization developments such as Hollywood Park and San Pedro Waterfront, large urban parks such as Vista Hermosa Park in Los Angeles and Orange County Great Park at the El Toro Marine Base, and complex commercial projects like a Bio-tech Corporate Campus in Thousand Oaks. In recent years, several interesting historic renovation projects have been added to her repertoire; these include Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, the glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and Santee Court, an urban housing development that pays tribute to its interesting context – L.A.’s fashion district. The firm is a consultant for the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, leading efforts to identify and plan a comprehensive open space network that interfaces with channel restoration and urbanism.
Adele Yellin is the President of The Yellin Company, LLC overseeing a large mixed-use project, Grand Central Square, in the Historic Core of Los Angeles which includes the historic Grand Central Market.
In 1984, downtown visionary Ira Yellin, a successful developer with an academic interest in urban planning and historical preservation, bought Grand Central Market and adjacent properties including the Million Dollar Theater, as well as the landmark Bradbury Building across the street. Ira passed away in 2002, but today Adele Yellin continues to champion his vision that a dynamic city needs a vibrant downtown.
Join us and help make a vibrant Los Angeles
River a reachable reality.
Alejandro Ortiz is an Architect / Entrepreneur based in Westwood CA. After completing his undergraduate studies at Berkeley, he interned for Steven Lerner, AIA in Providence, RI where we acted as Project Designer on several buildings at Brown University. In 1989, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked for Architects Frank Gehry, AIA and Frank Israel, AIA. After attending the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, he founded Alejandro Ortiz Architects, Inc. which he ran successfully for 20 years. He has since been engaged in Real Estate Management and is spearheading various Tech ventures as Founder and President of BulletNBoard, llc.
In addition to his diverse business activities, Alejandro has pursued his passion for the City of Los Angeles by actively contributing to a number of local organizations such as the LA County and the City of LA Departments of Parks and Recreation. He served on the Executive Board of the Music Center Fraternity of Friends and various Neighborhood Associations. He was appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as Commissioner at the LA Community Redevelopment Agency. He has served on the board of FOLAR since 2011, occupying the position of Chair for 5 years.n.