By ALISON BURMEISTER
It looked like a birthday celebration, complete with balloons and a cake, at Veterans Gardens at the Palisades Recreation Center on Friday.
Instead, Michael Shull, general manager of the L.A. City Department of Recreation and Parks, was being feted because he plans to retire in June. About 20 residents and staff gathered to express thanks to a top official, who was approachable and genuine.
“Everyone knew how to get hold of me, and I wanted people to know they shouldn’t be afraid to tell me what is wrong,” said Shull, who oversees about 480 parks.
“You mean we weren’t your only park?” Palisades Park Advisory Board member Maryam Zar, joked.
Shull explained his philosophy, “It’s important to be accessible, and understanding what the challenges are, in order to solve problems. You have to have your ear to the ground.
“Don’t tell me what I want to hear, tell me what is wrong,” he said.
An engineer by profession, Shull joined the Department in 2005 and was appointed by Mayor Garcetti as General Manager in 2013. Under Shull’s management 72 new parks were developed and many others were refurbished.
The Department of Recreation and Parks maintains and operates parks, swimming pools, public golf courses, recreation centers, museums, youth camps, tennis courts, sports programs, and programs for senior citizens.
During Covid, Shull said recreation centers were used to house the homeless.
“Many people don’t realize that the recreation and park services are the shelter and city welfare arm of the city,” Shull said, noting there were 24 park sites in the city used for housing the homeless.
Jasmine Dowlatshahi, the newly appointed Pali Recreation Park director, who ran one of the sites, said “We worked 12-hour shifts, fed the homeless, offered them showers at the pool and had a medical staff on board.”
When the schools closed during Covid, 50 recreation centers became LAUSD learning sites with free wi-fi, tablets and laptops.
Shull said he feels satisfied as he retires, but also acknowledges there is still work to be done.
“We are everyone’s backyard,” he said. “In a city of four million people it is important we create safe places for people to gather.”
Pacific Palisades Community Council President David Card had a special “going-away” present for Shull – two small eucalyptus trees. At the entrance to the park off Alma Real, there used to be two large trees: one is still standing. Card said that Shull had helped save that tree.
When asked what he would miss the most, Shull said, “the people…the staff.”
Although Shull said he is excited to retire and spend time with his two kids and wife, who is also retired, he did mention he would likely come back and consult.
“We are certainly going to miss him,” said Joe Halper, a Palisades resident and a member of the L.A. City Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners.