On a perfect, picture-postcard, post-rainstorm sunny Southern California morning, KCET’s Val Zavala was honored by the Los Angeles City Council at City Hall on Tuesday, declaring February 13 as “Val Zavala Day” in the City of Angels.
The proclamation, in recognition of her retirement this month culminating an esteemed, award-winning 30-year career at KCET, was introduced by 5th district councilmember Paul Koretz, during a presentation at the beginning of the council meeting in the chambers of L.A.’s 90-year-old civic edifice.
“She’s dedicated to educating, entertaining, and enlightening the public, and in the process, she’s become known as the face of KCET,” said Koretz, addressing the council. “Val has also become a popular television personality whom Angelenos have come to trust and adore, and the pieces she has produced through the years reflect her passion.”
Joined by a delegation of 16 representatives of the station, Zavala was handed the ceremonial parchment certificate by Koretz, who has appeared in many “SoCal Connected” segments over the years, which bears the signatures of the mayor and the city council, proclaiming “Val Zavala Day” in the city of Los Angeles.
“We’re certainly going to miss you,” said 14th district councilmember Jose Huizar speaking to Zavala from his seat at the horseshoe-shaped council table, “In this information age when we’re grabbing news so quickly and just looking for a quick sound bite, the in-depth stories, the human angle, really slows us down and makes us think more about what these stories mean. But the way you've approached it, you've been well-balanced, you know Los Angeles, you've covered it in a unique perspective, and that's what's going to be missed."
Zavala, in accepting her proclamation, addressed the council, thanking them for the honor and crediting her KCET colleagues for the real reason behind her civic commendation. She spoke about retiring during an era where journalism is in crisis with a dearth of local reporting, and the plethora of politicized “fake news” influencing public discourse. She also emphasized the vital role of the media in governmental affairs.
"We have done some hard-hitting stories and put many of you on the spot, I hope that shedding light on the problems and challenges that face all governments, that it also leads to solutions and reforms," said Zavala. "This honor displays your understanding of what a free press is."
Huizar, who represents downtown and Northeast L.A., was appreciative of Zavala's journalistic role in local issues over the past three decades.
“Your stories have impacted policy and made changes, thank you so much for doing that,” he said.
KCET’s chief creative officer, Juan Devis, also addressed the council during the presentation, describing Zavala’s impact on the station, the community, and the city as a whole.
“She has brought her humanity and generosity to every story she has produced even when she holds truth to power, as many of you in this chamber can attest,” said Devis.
A video montage of Zavala’s career highlights was shown during the presentation, with a pre-recorded introduction by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who conveyed his congratulations and shared his personal experiences with Zavala, who first interviewed him when he was elected to his inaugural term to the city council in 2001.
"It was one of the first times I was asked deep questions," recalled Garcetti. “That attitude stayed with her always.”
"She really understood the city, because I think she was of the city. And to last for 30 years that's longer than Tom Bradley, our longest-serving mayor, was mayor. So she's been the mayor of our journalistic core here for a long time,” Garcetti said.
When Val Zavala started at KCET in November 1987, Los Angeles was recovering from the 5.9 Whittier Narrows Earthquake the month before, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were still star players on the Lakers, Tom Bradley was serving the fourth of his five terms as mayor, and 6th district city councilmember Nury Martinez was still attending junior high school in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
"Val Zavala is a journalism icon, whose passion for truth and understanding has defined her long and distinguished career," said Martinez, one of two Latinas, who are also the only women, serving on the city council. "Val has devoted decades to covering the Southern California community and its most important stories. She is a role model not only for Latino journalists, but for every producer, reporter, and anchor looking to make a difference."
Zavala also used her time at the podium to make a light-hearted declaration of her own.
“And by the way, if it’s Val Zavala Day, I get to declare that all parking tickets today are null and void!” joked Zavala as she addressed the council, followed by laughter reverberating through the cathedral-like council chambers.
“Should you be pulled over by LAPD, you could show them that resolution, and they’ll let you go as well,” jestingly replied Huizar, who was Zavala’s councilman when she resided in Eagle Rock a few years ago.
Following the presentation, Koretz led Zavala and the KCET contingent to the adjacent media room for group photos.
“I wish I could declare all parking tickets null and void and give something back to the people of L.A. on my day,” said Zavala, after Koretz left the group to re-join the council meeting. “But my husband — I will remind him that — I got a day, and he didn't, which means I won’t have to do the dishes tonight.”
Tuesday’s proclamation, together with the airing of the “SoCal Connected” special “30 Years with Val Zavala” and an in-house retirement fete at KCET’s studios last Friday, capped off a string of dedications, celebrations, and farewells observed since her retirement was announced in January.
‘Now I’m finally retired!” exclaimed Zavala, holding her proclamation, triumphantly raising her hands.