An Interview with Cat Spydell, RHE Candidate
I first met Rolling Hills Estates resident Cat Spydell a few years ago when we were both working on a community project. I heard she was running for City Council of Rolling Hills Estates, and asked her to tell me about that decision. She agreed to sit down with me for an interview to share her story.
EN: You are running for City Council in Rolling Hills Estates. What events sparked that decision?
CS: There were several things that brought it about, and it wasn’t a snap decision for sure. A few people suggested I run, and at first I didn’t take it seriously. But when I thought about it, I realized I already attend a lot of city council meetings as a citizen because I care about Rolling Hills Estates and like to keep up with the current issues, and I am also on the City’s EAC (Environmental Advisory Committee). My dad Joe Leach was involved with RHE City government, being City Manager for RHE and RH from the 60s through the 80s, so I grew up following what was going on here. Running to become a member of city council seemed like a natural progression to what I was already doing. I respect the government process and feel like I have a unique ability to use my knowledge of RHE’s past when making decisions in the present. Enough people convinced me it was a good move, so I applied to run.
EN: In your opinion, what challenges do you foresee the city facing over the next few years?
CS: One project that concerns me is “trashbag hill”…the landslide across from the main library. I have attended recent council meetings where development of 148 condo units on that land has been proposed, and I feel we need to proceed with caution. I would really like to find out more information about how that area, which had a massive landslide, can be made safe for a huge housing project. Aside from the physical risks, it will add over 300 more residents and increased traffic that could drastically change the heart of the hill. I also monitor the landfill information that comes in periodically. The landfill has been referred to by concerned citizens as “a sleeping giant” and I believe it is something that we need to keep one eye on. I had major concerns about the expansion of PV Drive North, which was referred to as “the bike lane project”, that I and several other area residents expressed at numerous Council meetings. While the project went through without the modifications that opponents advocated, I still hope to see follow-through on the tree-scaping that was promised. It is also very important to me to see local shops utilized by residents and empty shops filled. Some recent proposals to convert mall retail space into medical and commercial space has my attention as well. These are just some of the projects I have been following by attending and watching the city council meetings. The running joke on my nominating committee is, you’re there most Tuesday nights anyway, you may as well sit in one of the fancy committee chairs instead of in the audience. I have at this point embraced that joke as a sort of truth, and realize that I am up on many of the issues, I am vocal in my participation of city council, and that boils down to caring about where we go next as a city. I’d like to be an official part of that process.
EN: What do you think you can bring to the city if you are elected as a Member of City Council?
CS: I have thought about that question myself as I continue in this process to run for election, and one thing I think I can bring is experience: Experience living in Rolling Hills Estates. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I remember Buffums! I get it when people talk about the old days of living on the hill, and while there has been a lot of development, the vibe is the same as when I was a kid. The canyons we played in are still there, waiting to be explored. The beach is still just a quick drive away. There are still horses and high schools and shopping centers. The trick now is to maximize what we have without changing the special character and beauty of this area, and without overextending our city’s resources while keeping in mind our limitations. We are a peninsula. There are only a couple of ways in and out. We need to keep that in mind when considering increased housing; land development is not progress if it lowers the quality of life that we all enjoy here.
EN: You grew up in Rolling Hills Estates. What was that like?
CS: Rolling Hills Estates is a great city to grow up in. My parents bought me a pony when I was nine. Everyone had horses then, and kept them in their backyards. Boarding at The Red Barn, as the stables were called then, wasn’t as common as it is now. I’d go down in the corral and just look around and see if any other kids were around and we’d get on our horses and go. No cell phones, water bottles, or even sunscreen…we’d just take off for the day. Having a horse was sort of like having a car! We’d ride to friends’ houses and put our horses all together in that corral and hang out then ride home later, or ride up to McDonald’s for lunch, or just explore the trails together. I’m an equestrian still, and have noticed a lot of people with horse property don’t keep horses anymore. I hope that the tradition of horse ownership is one that stays strong on the hill because it is one of the things that makes RHE so unique. I love to see horses on the trails when I drive down PV Drive North, and I enjoy riding my own horse around the hill.
EN: You mention that your dad worked for the city. Does the rest of your family still live in Palos Verdes?
CS: Yes, my mom Billie Leach was a school teacher at Dapplegray in the 50s and 60s and she is still living in the family home. My brother Kevin Leach and his wife Caroline both attended PVPUSD schools and live with their two kids in PVE, and that has been one of the best parts about raising my own two kids in Palos Verdes, is having that family atmosphere while they were growing up. My kids are both in college now but it has been great having my immediate family here as they were growing up. It was fun watching our combined four kids grow up having family events in the same house that my brother and I were raised in.
EN: You are a small-business owner and author. Talk about your work.
CS: I co-own a boutique publishing company, which means I am technically C.E.O of a small corporation, and I am fortunate to be able to typically work from home, since my job is mostly internet based. Sometimes I work in Torrance with my business partner. Working with a business partner has made me embrace that delicate balance of having your ideas heard but also listening to the other party and meeting in the middle for solutions. I am also an author of a young adult novel and a fantasy novel; I received my master’s degree from CSULB in English Literature with Creative Writing Emphasis, so writing is something I’ve always done. Aside from that, I have had other jobs on the hill over the years, including working for PVPUSD with ESL students and at the mall’s ice rink as an ice show producer and manager. As a result I have a good sense of how lucky we are to live in an area with such a great school district, and I also know personally some of the challenges local businesses face. I have worked for the City of Redondo Beach and California State Parks as well, so I am familiar with working within the boundaries of such agencies.
EN: I met you through your volunteer efforts on a project I was in charge of. What sort of community efforts do you involve yourself in on the hill?
CS: I like to get involved. I always have volunteer projects on the side. I have mostly tried to fit my skills and passion into volunteering, such as being Team Mom for my daughter’s synchronized skating team, score keeper for my son’s school lacrosse games, things like that. As an artist I enjoyed being an Art at Your Fingertips docent in the school district, and because I grew up on the street I live on, it was a good fit being HOA president and secretary. I also put out an HOA newsletter in my neighborhood for years, because that involved writing, which was something I could easily do. I started a Petfinders group in my neighborhood with the neighboring HOA, where we kept records of all the local pets so if one was found we could get it back home again. That’s still going on after 15 years, and it evolved for me into taking in some rescue critters along the way, including a pig and a goat, but it has been a good way to put my skills into use to try and make a difference.
EN: I have heard that you are environmentally conscious. Can you elaborate?
CS: It is true that I applied to be on the City’s Environmental Advisory Committee because I do care about the planet and feel that everyone can do their share. I recycle, and when I taught art at a local preschool, I taught the kids how to recycle too because it’s important for the future of the planet to teach the next generation how to be environmentally responsible. My backyard is a federally registered Wildlife Habitat, which means that I provide food, water, and an organic pesticide-free environment for migrating wild birds. I compost, and I think consciously every day about how to improve the environment. I have brought some of my concerns about environmental practices to the City in the past. So far RHE has been very receptive to these concerns; once I proposed that instead of spraying herbicides for weed abatement, we use mulch along the walking paths, and that plan was implemented. The city has also been diligent about following suggestions about replacing removed trees along PV Drive North.