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Say Aloha to Ozoa--Our Guy at City Hall
By Kathy Dalle-Molle
"Working in the Office of Neighborhood Services for three months is equal to a year anyplace else," says Lawrence Ozoa. "I've only been here seven months, so I'm still fresh."
That's lucky for Noe Valley residents, as the energetic Ozoa, 28, is our man in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, as well as the liaison for the Castro, Glen Park, Diamond Heights, and other neighborhoods in District 8.
Each day, Ozoa hears complaints from 30 to 50 neighbors about problems ranging from homeless camps and illegal drug use to unlawful condo conversions and lack of parking, not to mention stinky restaurant trash and dogs pooping on the sidewalk. He then works as a go-between with the residents and city government to help find solutions to the problems ailing District 8.
Believe it or not, this is a dream job for the nattily dressed, perfectly coifed Ozoa, who was born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Despite the idyllic setting, he endured a tough childhood, living on welfare with his single-parent mother. In his teens, Ozoa turned to drugs and alcohol and drifted the streets for more than a year.
By the time he came to San Francisco in 1996, he had been clean and sober for three years. He planned to visit the city for 12 days on his way to Las Vegas to start an events management business with a friend. But his friend bailed on him, so, with no job prospects and only $1,500 to his name, he scrapped his Las Vegas plans and decided to move to San Francisco.
"This is a city where anything can happen," Ozoa says. "You have a dream, and if you put some hard work behind it, you can make it happen."
He soon landed a job as a case manager for the Native American AIDS Project on Market Street, where he worked for two years. Later, he became the HIV prevention coordinator at LYRIC, a nonprofit on Collingwood that serves gay and lesbian youth. Then last year, the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services came calling.
"They were looking for a gay Filipino who lives in District 8 with a public policy background, as well as experience working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. I fit the bill," he laughs. "In Neighborhood Services, we need to be able to work with all members of our community, from the disenfranchised to those people who make $200,000 a year."
Ozoa's workdays are crammed with meetings, phone calls, e-mails, and walkabouts in District 8. He arrives at his cramped, cluttered cubicle from his Duboce Triangle apartment by 8 a.m. most mornings. The first hour of the day is spent responding to the 15 or so phone calls or e-mail messages left for him overnight. (That number can shoot up to 50 if there's a controversial issue in the news, such as the transgender health benefits legislation recently sponsored by Supervisor Mark Leno.)
When we interviewed him in mid-March, he also was deep into planning the city's yearly domestic partners commitment ceremony on March 29. In his off hours, Ozoa is working toward his B.A. in public administration, attending the University of San Francisco at night. He'll graduate next February and plans to go on to law school.
Ozoa also helps out Mark Leno's office with constituent work. "There are a lot of passionate people in San Francisco who feel strongly about a lot of issues," says Ozoa. "I work with every city department to try to handle problems for people in my district. Sometimes it might take a while and then people think I'm not really doing anything for them, but they have to understand that I can only move as fast as a particular city department does.
"Neighbors should always feel free to call and talk to me," he continues. "When I am at my desk and not in a meeting with someone, I always answer my phone."
He points to an 81/2-by-11 piece of white paper hanging above his desk. "Attention to detail. Answer the phone," the sign says.
"Those are the words to live by in this department," Ozoa explains. "Our director, Bevan Dufty, really emphasizes that all the time--"Attention to detail. Answer the phone"--so I typed up this sign and put it over my desk as a constant reminder to myself."
Most days, Ozoa doesn't finish his job until well into the evening hours. On the day he talked with the Voice, he said his workday wouldn't end until 9 p.m. He spent the morning responding to phone calls and e-mails and then attending a planning meeting for the domestic partners ceremony. In the early afternoon, he wrote several proclamations and condolence letters on behalf of the mayor. After our interview, he was leaving City Hall to meet with community leaders about housing issues. Then he was off to a 5 p.m. board meeting for the Native American AIDS Project, followed by another meeting with one of the city's art commissioners about raising funds for the domestic partners ceremony. He planned to end his day by attending two neighborhood meetings in District 8.
Ozoa confesses he hasn't spent as much time on issues in Noe Valley and Glen Park as he'd like to, mostly because there have been more pressing issues in the Castro, particularly regarding homelessness, crime, and drug use. He spends time each week on the streets of District 8, speaking with homeless residents. "I know many of them by name. I'd say I've given my card to 80 percent of them."
Still, he wants Noe Valley residents to know that he is only a phone call away.
"Noe Valley is such a great community," Ozoa says. "Neighbors really take care of one another. Right now, the Castro is dealing with a lot of big issues--tourism, big corporations moving in, increases in foot traffic, homelessness, crime, drug use. But I really plan to focus more on Noe Valley and Glen Park in the future. These are the areas I am most proud of in District 8. They are so well maintained.
"I try to be very accessible," he adds. "I don't just want to pacify people. I really want to get an answer for them. Call anytime. Leave me a voicemail at night. Even if you just want to vent. Everybody has a right to vent, although I do welcome thank-you calls too, although I don't expect them."
Most calls he receives from Noe Valley residents are about lack of parking, monster homes, late Muni buses, and litter.
He also receives his share of wacky messages, including those from people who want to speak directly to the mayor about building a new freeway that cuts through the city or those who insist the mayor make cars illegal in town. He frequently picks up his messages in the morning and gets at least one or two fundamentalist gospel recordings about "being saved." The fundamentalist groups target Ozoa because he is the liaison for District 8's large gay and lesbian community.
Although Ozoa says his phone line is always open, he also encourages District 8 residents to try to get to know their community and neighbors more on their own. "I really want to encourage neighbors to take ownership of their block or street. People should attend their community police meetings, and this might sound hokey, but I think there should be more block parties and neighborhood barbecues in San Francisco.
"Noe Valley seems to do some of that," he continues. "It is one of the nicer neighborhoods in San Francisco. I love walking down 24th Street in the morning, coffee in hand, and have people say good morning to me. It's like being in a small town. People still hold the door for you and say, 'You're welcome.' Plus, I love the burgers at Barney's."
Lawrence Ozoa can be reached by phone at 554-6148 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.