Palisadian Joe Halper, who has been on the Board of Commissioners for L.A. Recreation and Parks for almost five years, is retiring. This is a loss for Los Angeles.
Halper, 93, told Circling the News, “it is time.”
Appointed by the Mayor, he and four other colleagues, routinely read staff reports, ask questions and vote on proposals.
The five, all volunteers, spend time familiarizing themselves with expenditures, park improvements and reading reports generated by projects in the city’s 480 parks. The commissioners serve as a civilian oversight committee.
Halper, who was born and raised in a poor neighborhood in the South Bronx in New York City, has championed for the underprivileged that live in low-income areas in Los Angeles.
“Forty percent of the city don’t have any local walking-distance parks,” he says. “It’s an equity issue.”
Under former RAP director Michael Shull and former LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, Halper worked to open up school grounds as parks, to serve as a “community health system.”
Even though Covid stopped progress, Halper has not given up.
He has continued the fight for children who have no place outside to play. At the last RAP meeting in March, Halper said, “We’re not serving one-third of the City. We need to look at the school grounds and figure out how we make them more parklike.
“We need to start designing and exploring the costs,” Halper said. “We need to do this if we are going to help the underserved.”
One of Halper’s first jobs was as a lifeguard at Coney Island. He later served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. He co-wrote the textbooks “The Crisis in Urban Recreational Services” and “Strategic Recreation Management.”
Halper and his wife Arline moved to the Highlands in 1972 from New York, when he was hired as director of the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation.
He has received many honors such as being a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the L.A. County representative to the USOC for the Olympics in 1984 and even a Swedish knighthood. He also received a proclamation from the LA County Board of Supervisors for his saving of millions of dollars after the budget cuts resulting from Proposition 13.
He is past president of the Palisades Democratic Club. A Korean War veteran, he’s a member of both American Legion Post 283 as a Post 118 of the Jewish War Veterans.
Prior to serving on RAP, he served seven years on the West L.A. Planning Commission. He was selected as the 2021 Palisades Fourth of July Parade co-parade marshal.
Halper not only works in recreation, he also practices it as a life endeavor. An avid skier (“until my wife took my poles away”), he continues to play tennis with a group of friends, and twice completed the Alcatraz Swim with his sons, swimming 1.2 miles from Alcatraz to shore at ages 80 and 85.
Eventually, someone will be appointed to take Halper’s place on the commission, but it will be nearly impossible to replace his experience and his commitment to justice.