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President, James Murez

I was born and raised in West Los Angeles, a first generation American.  I have clear memories of the 405 Freeway being constructed, visiting Venice beach and Ocean Park when the amusement park was still operational, complete with the entry through a huge aquarium, a time when buses ran on electricity provided from an overhead grid of wires, and train cars occupied the railroad tracks that we can still see embedded in some of our streets.

405 freeway being created
Mulholland overpass being exposed as bulldozers dig out the mountain below to create the freeway.

My parents were immigrants who came here with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.  After being diagnosed with abnormal learning conditions in the first grade of public school, I was educated within experimental environments.  As a teenager, I returned to public school at University High in WLA but with the luck of a draw, I was selected for IPS (Innovated Public School) and, although I never had a formal graduation, I learned about how to get stuff done in the real world.  After that I spent a few years at Santa Monica Junior College enrolled in trade courses (welding, auto repair and body shop, architecture and home construction) before going to work full time.

My early jobs included working as a handyman fixing friends’ parents’ houses.  From there I followed my love for cars and began building race cars and restoring antiques.  For a while I even worked on cars for actor Steve McQueen, who had a sizable collection.  But my favorite car of all was a Mini Cooper I purchased in Europe.  It had belonged to Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, and it was a very rare Sprint model.  After completely restoring it and building it out to racing standards, I sold it to help kick start the funding of my company.  That was one of my only regrets; I loved that car and had put so many of my skills into the restoration of it.

My father became a successful entrepreneur who built his company from working out of our garage into a 100,000 square foot factory in South Central Los Angeles with more than 100 employees in the late 1970’s.  He then recruited me to help build it even bigger.  Having grown up working on weekends and summers for him, I understood the entire operation, and my other skills allowed me to oversee the move to a new half million square foot building.  I was tasked with maintaining the operational aspects of the business with no more than a week of down time on the production floor.  I achieved these goals and he asked me to stay on and work for him full time.

One of my hobbies included building electronics.  I started with ham radios, then calculators (which would someday replace adding machines), before finally assembling a microcomputer in 1977.  I had a couple of nerd friends who were into the same sort of hobbies, and on weekends we would get together to compare notes and brag about our progress.  We talked about stuff like how we could get the display to show a full line of characters before crashing.  My best friend lived in Santa Barbara so, driven by the necessity of having to lug five or six boxes of delicate handmade state-of-the-art electronic computer equipment into my car, I designed a portable enclosure to house all the parts.

1978 Murez prototype of first portable computer

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Shortly after repackaging my computer parts into one cabinet and getting it to reliably work, not a small feat, which taught me a lot about Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) and Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI), I showed it to the owner of The Computer Store, a hobby store for computer nerds.  Before I left the store, he handed me a purchase order for 25 machines and asked how soon he could take delivery.  Underfunded and with little knowledge of how to operate a business, I founded a corporation and began manufacturing the first portable computers (U.S. Patent # 4294496).  The orders far outweighed our production capabilities, but we managed to sell and deliver machines to people all over the world, including the U.S. military and major companies like General Dynamics, Sandia National Labs and Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), to name a few.  In the early 1980’s, after IBM launched their first PC, I decided to dissolve the company due to lack of funding to retool and compete in the expanding market.

In 1983, standing at the desert table at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party, I met the love of my life, Melanie.  She was working 24/7 for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.  I decided that if I wanted to see her, I needed to get involved too.  I was hired as a technology consultant, but lent a hand wherever my expertise was needed.

Melanie and I traveled throughout Europe after the Olympics before returning to Santa Monica where we both rented apartments.  Shortly thereafter, we married and decided to buy a commercial property in Venice where I would design and build an office and home for our soon-to-be-delivered son.  Melanie, who had graduate degrees in foreign languages and had been in charge of recruiting and managing volunteers with foreign language skills for the Olympics, started a business offering language services.  Meanwhile, while I was building our new building, I became involved with the community.

James (holding son) Zachary Murez, Councilwoman Galanter, Jack Hoffmann at Carrot Breaking Reopening Ceremony 1989

In 1989, I was asked if I was interested in trying to save our failing farmers market.  At the time, it was located in front of the Venice Pavilion on Ocean Front Walk.  Lack of parking and exposure to passersby were major factors of its demise.  I decided it needed to be moved to Pacific at Venice.  After the move, the market grew from three farmers to over 30.  Now, after 30 plus years, the market continues to be a high point in my life while providing the community with healthy produce and a place to catch up with friends and neighbors.  Held on Friday mornings, mostly only locals attend, but it also serves as a destination for school field trips of young children who learn the importance of eating a balanced, healthy diet.  One of my greatest joys is when a customer greets me and says, “When I was a child my parents brought me here and now I’m sharing the experience with my children.”  What a wonderful feeling to know I have touched so many lives.

Coeur d'Alen Elementary School Fieldtrip

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During our early involvement in the Venice community, Melanie and I became involved in the future vision workshops that were being conducted by the California Coastal Conservancy.  These workshops were intended to let the community have a say in the Land Use Plan the City was required to create under a Coastal Commission mandate.  In part, because walking was good for Melanie during her pregnancy with our daughter, and partly because there was such an outcry about building heights in Venice, we took it upon ourselves to tour all of the walk streets and photograph and measure the heights of the houses.  We later published our work into a report and submitted it to the City.  The study helped to set the guidelines for the height standards that now control developments on Walk Streets.

As an offshoot of the market in the early 1990’s, my old high school friend, Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople, suggested I apply for funding to plant trees on the recently realigned Venice Blvd. (formally Caltrans Highway 187) west of Lincoln Blvd.  I was awarded an Environmental Enhancement Mitigation grant that allowed me to unite the community in several design workshops intended to come up with a vision for this section of roadway.  The native landscaping design for this section of Venice Blvd would later be coined “The Ceremonial Gateway to Venice Beach” and adopted into the Coastal Commission Certified Land Use Plan.

One of over 1000 trees watered weekly.

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During the five years of plantings, I recruited 43 individuals from streets throughout Venice and sponsored them through an Urban Forestry program TreePeople hosted.  Once a person had taken the course, they were ready to recruit their neighbors to plant street trees in their neighborhood.  As the movement continued to grow, experienced planters from one street would join other street plantings for these Saturday morning events.  By the end of the planting cycle over 4000 volunteers had participated and we together planted over 1400 trees.  Venice Blvd plantings were primarily conducted by me with the help of three years of Summer Youth At-Risk Employment workers.  These kids were paid through a City sponsored program and learned about landscaping and safe work practices within the public right-of-way.  We managed to get 1.5 miles of sprinklers installed along with 650 trees in the median and sidewalk parkways.  LA City Street Services and LADWP argued over who was going to pay for water meters so for the next five years, I could be seen watering trees by hand.  The result was a 100% survival rate.

I’ve been involved with the Neighborhood Council from the start.  And before that, I was asked by Councilwoman Ruth Galanter to serve on her Community Planning Advisory Committee, where I would provide feedback on proposed developer projects.  This committee lasted ten years.  Once the VNC (formerly Grass Roots Venice) existed, I served for six 6 terms (12 years) on its Land Use and Planning Committee.  During this period, along with my old friend Challis MacPherson (deceased), we wrote the book for how land use committees would operate throughout the city.  We created a Memorandum of Understanding with the Planning Department that informed NC’s about permit applications within their regions.  Twenty years later this report, called the Early Notification Report, continues to be used through all NC’s as their primary tool to keep aware of proposed development projects.

I took two years off from the VNC before returning to run for the Board of Directors.  Now in my fifth year of serving, I have hosted the Parking and Transportation Committee, which during my tenure had over 100 motions to improve our community that were adopted by the Board.  Also wanting to improve the Board’s public meetings, I started with the audio system and engineered a portable mixer that ties into the school’s PA system.  It was a huge improvement, and even people in the back of the room could hear what was being said.  Following that, I proposed to the Board that we purchase a new overhead projector for the school.  It was funded and, after welding up a custom mounting bracket, I hung it from the ceiling.  Once COVID restrictions are lifted and the VNC returns to live meetings at the school, I’m sure these improvements will once again be appreciated by all in attendance.

James, Andrea, Melanie and Zachary Murez, Venice Farmers' Market winter 2011

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I don’t want to leave out my amazing children, who both attended LAUSD public schools and graduated from Venice High School with honors.  Zachary went on to Yale, where he swam on the team and graduated with two degrees, in Intensive Mathematics and Computer Science.  He then attended UC San Diego and received a PhD in Computer Science with a specialty in computer vision.  He has since been published several times and is currently doing research in the field of autonomous driving.  

My daughter Andrea was recruited to Stanford to swim on their team, where she set two NCAA records before graduating.  She then enrolled in medical school, and is now in her third year while continuing to swim.  She swam in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and plans to compete in Tokyo later this summer before going back to complete her schooling.  I’m very proud of my family and their achievements!

For more information about the wonderful group of candidates I'm running with visit the following address.  https://www.CommonSenseVenice.com

Thank you for considering me to lead the Venice Neighborhood Council.  I will work diligently and continue to take positive actions to make Venice a cleaner, safer place to live, work and play.

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