Fourth time's the charm

Trump taps Pasadena ‘Reagan Republican’ Robert C. O’Brien to take over as National Security Advisor

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/30/2019

On Sept. 18, President Trump named Ambassador Robert C. O’Brien, a Pasadena resident, as his fourth National Security Advisor. Trump made the announcement on Twitter while visiting Los Angeles.

“I am pleased to announce that I will name Robert C. O’Brien, currently serving as the very successful Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department, as our new National Security Advisor,” Trump tweeted. “I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!”

O’Brien enters an administration mired in chaos as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry against the president on Sept. 24. In August, a whistleblower in the intelligence community filed a complaint against the president for allegedly pressuring incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate Trump’s potential political rival in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and allegedly threatening to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine if they didn’t comply with Trump’s request.

The move to hire O’Brien came shortly after the departure of Trump’s previous National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton. Trump said he fired Bolton, while Bolton insisted that he offered to resign first. The two disagreed about a number of foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. O’Brien has similar ideological views as Bolton, though he is much less confrontational and is well-liked by those who know him.

As Trump’s hostage negotiator, O’Brien led the US government’s diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Americans held hostage worldwide while liaising with their families in the United States. A conservative Republican, he has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations in State Department positions and as a representative to the UN General Assembly under Bolton. He was also a major in the US Army Reserve.

O’Brien is the co-founding partner of Larson O’Brien LLP in Los Angeles, a litigation firm that focuses on international arbitration. Before moving to Pasadena, O’Brien lived for many years in La Cañada Flintridge. He had two sons, one of whom tragically drowned in 2015. O’Brien converted from Catholicism to Mormonism in his 20s, and is the author of the 2016 book, “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis.” He has long argued for expanding the U.S. military, particularly the Navy.

In 2016, O’Brien laid out what he thought the incoming 45th president’s foreign policy priorities and national security agenda should be in an article for the Pacific Council on International Policy, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization in Los Angeles dedicated to foreign affairs. He argued that the new president “must commit to a national security policy of ‘peace through strength,’ reassert American leadership, and rebuild our alliances.” He has been a member of the Pacific Council since 2007.

While he was not a “Never Trump” Republican, O’Brien also wasn’t a full-fledged Trump supporter from the beginning. During the 2016 Republican primary season, O’Brien served as foreign policy adviser to the failed presidential bids of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. O’Brien also served as a senior adviser to then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and considers himself a traditional Reagan Republican who warns against isolationism.

“Ambassador Robert O’Brien has been a valued member of the Pacific Council for over a decade,” said Dr. Jerrold Green, president and CEO of the Pacific Council. “His long career of public service, as well as recent successes as Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the US Department of State, have been characterized by great integrity, commitment, effectiveness and success and the country is lucky to have Robert as its new National Security Advisor.”

Act two

Former TV news anchor Kent Shocknek goes 'from reality to make believe' with new acting career

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/26/2019

Kent Shocknek’s post-retirement life has been an unexpected surprise. The longtime news anchor and Pasadena resident has recently turned his newscaster career into a successful acting career.

Born Kent Schoknecht in 1956 in Berkeley, he moved to Pasadena in 1983, where he changed the spelling of his last name to Shocknek. He worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram while attending USC, then at KCAU in Sioux City, Iowa, and then as an anchor and space shuttle reporter for WFTV in Orlando, Florida.

In 1986, he took a morning news anchor job at NBC4 in Los Angeles, where he became a household name. During the magnitude 5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, he took cover under his anchor desk while continuing to cover the story. In 2001, he moved to CBS2 News in LA, where he anchored morning and evening newscasts. In 2013, he moved again to KCAL9, where he anchored the evening and nighttime news.

He has won eight regional Emmy awards, two LA Press Club awards, a Golden Mic award for best daytime newscast and a William Randolph Hearst award for investigative reporting. He has also logged more hours as an anchor than anyone else in Los Angeles. The city of Los Angeles proclaimed Jan. 10, 2014 Kent Shocknek Day to honor his decades of service.

Shocknek retired from anchoring in 2014. His acting credits begin in 2004, but his second career really started picking up after his retirement.

While he mostly plays news anchors in movies and television shows because he has that look and experience, he is also seeing success in portraying other friendly authority figures, the guy next door and the everyman.

His long list of more than 60 credits include such well-known titles as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Manhunt,” “The Purge,” “The West Wing,” “Monk,” “ER,” “Bosch,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: NY,” “NCIS,” “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Law and Order,” “The Righteous Gemstones” and many others. Sometimes, he even plays himself.

Shocknek recently sat down with the Pasadena Weekly to discuss his life and career.

Pasadena Weekly: You’ve been at the anchor desk during some major news stories over the years. What was that like to be the trusted source of information for so many people?

Kent Shocknek: First of all, it’s tremendously humbling, because it’s such an honor to be able to be invited into people’s homes and, if lucky, be invited back into their homes on a daily basis. I always liked anchoring because field reporters could look at something up close and see every little detail, while the anchor person had the opportunity to be one step removed and look back at the big picture. I always liked being able to see how this story relates to this story and how what’s happening here connects to what’s happening there. … I enjoyed my relationship with the audience. It was absolutely not a one-way thing. I always felt that what I needed to do was be the person who was telling people what we did know and not speculating about what we didn’t know, and trying to show that they could trust what it was that we were reporting on.

What are some of the more memorable stories you covered over the years?

There were too many to count. Of course the big events stand out: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, when we were on the air covering the launch itself before the explosion, a number of earthquakes and wildfires and big storms, the Los Angeles riots.

It’s usually the most remembered stories are the big stories, but for me, the happiest stories often were the smallest stories. I remember one little girl who lost her tooth on her way to school and we did a very cute story about her. And the stories that make a difference, like when you see a family being reunited. I always liked the stories that were small and personal because I think we can all relate to them.

How did you turn your anchor career into an acting career?

I think after years of seeing me on the screen every day, producers and casting directors recognized they could have someone who looked like an anchor and knew how to talk into a camera and give a project whatever credibility I might have. When I called it a day anchoring, I thought it would be interesting to see if what I had learned would translate into roles in addition to newscasters and commentators, other friendly authority figures like businessmen, fathers or lawmakers, and so far I’ve had some success and we’re picking up a little steam.

What current and upcoming projects are you working on?

In addition to playing newscasters, I’ve recently played an honest businessman in a crooked company and a widower who was speed dating. I just finished an episode of “The Righteous Gemstones” [an HBO show by Danny McBride that satirizes televangelists], and earlier this month I did three episodes of a show called “Manhunt” in Pittsburgh, a cult thriller called “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon” in New Orleans which is a movie with Kate Hudson, an episode of “Manifest” on NBC in New York and a commercial in Seattle.

That was all during the summertime, which traditionally is sort of a slow time for a lot of productions, but I think I must have tapped into something and been tremendously lucky because it’s really picked up more than a summer has had a right to do by my estimation.

End of the road

Nonprofits await new homes after lawmakers pull the plug on the 710 tunnel

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/19/2019

The state Legislature passed a bill last week that brings nonprofit tenants of Caltrans-owned properties such as Arlington Garden one step closer to purchasing their properties from the state transportation agency.

Recently named Nonprofit of the Year by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, Arlington Garden, Pasadena’s only dedicated regenerative Mediterranean Chaparral climate garden, is holding its annual fundraiser on Sept. 29.

“Instead of a freeway, we built a garden,” said Michelle Matthews, executive director of Arlington Garden. “In that same vein, in addition to purchasing the garden property, we hope to purchase one of the Caltrans homes and turn it into an urban design and ecology library and nonprofit co-working space. That way, we don’t have to build structures that impact the garden and we get to continue our same successful gardening principles, to help everyone understand the value of regenerative landscaping.”

If signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate Bill 7, introduced by Portantino, a former La Cañada Flintridge mayor and council member, also effectively kills the 710 North freeway tunnel as a replacement for an overland connector by removing the planned extension between the 710 and 210 freeways — something that’s been on the books since the 1940s — from the state highway code as of Jan. 1, 2024. SB 7 also includes housing provisions such as a rent hike freeze and an extended deadline for Caltrans tenants in its Affordable Rent Program.

A second bill, Assembly Bill 29, introduced by Democrat Assembly member Chris Holden, a former Pasadena mayor and council member, contains language identical to SB 7 regarding the tunnel, minus the additional housing provisions. If Newsom decides not to support the housing provisions in SB 7, signing AB 29 will still effectively kill the tunnel plan. He has until Oct. 13 to sign the bills. Whichever bill he signs last becomes law.

‘The Final Nail’

For decades, Caltrans has tried to connect the 710 and 210 freeways first by acquiring more than 460 properties in the 710 Corridor — which includes portions of West Pasadena, South Pasadena and the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno — with the intention of razing them to build a surface freeway, and then, when that was defeated, by exploring ways to build a tunnel through portions of West Pasadena to connect the two freeways.

Due to environmental, health and cost concerns, along with local opposition from the cities that would have been most impacted by the project, Caltrans capitulated to political pressure and decided not to move forward with the tunnel project, according to an environmental impact report released by the state agency on Nov. 28.

The department instead chose to pursue transit improvements, increased bus use, traffic signal optimization, intersection improvements and other projects. Cities in the region, including

Pasadena, have been allocated hundreds of millions of dollars from Measure R funds for those and related projects.

“Generations who have been fighting this freeway can rest in peace knowing that they made this day happen and that the freeway will never get completed,” Portantino said in a statement. “Many people worked collaboratively to get us to this place, giving moral support for those of us in office and providing the runway to let this 60-year-old plane land.”

Claire Bogaard, a long-time anti-710 activist and member of the No 710 Action Committee, said she was “extremely grateful to our senator for putting the final nail in the 710 tunnel’s coffin. He has been by our side for two decades. When SB 7 is signed we can all finally sigh in relief.”

However, Caltrans successfully negotiated the removal of language from the original bill that would have compelled the state agency to immediately relinquish control of the freeway “stubs” — areas where the existing freeways end — to the cities of Pasadena and Alhambra. Caltrans now retains control of the stub lands until 2024, which worries some anti-710 activists.

“I’ve long suspected Caltrans is not an honest broker,” William Sherman, a member of South Pasadena’s Freeway and Transportation Commission, told the South Pasadenan newspaper. “This gives them four years to do something. I don’t know what, but I suspect the tunnel is not dead. Caltrans has been strongly opposed to giving back the stubs to the cities and they have said so on multiple occasions. It’s not a shocker but I expected more from our state legislators.”

SB 7 authorizes the California Transportation Commission to relinquish the north stub area near California Boulevard to the city of Pasadena “upon terms and conditions the commission finds to be in the best interests of the state, if the department and the city enter into an agreement providing for that relinquishment,” the bill states. “The city of Pasadena shall ensure the continuity of traffic flow on the relinquished portion of Route 710.”

For several years, a group of Pasadena residents have been working on the Connecting Pasadena Plan, developing a vision for what the stub land could look like if the city of Pasadena were to acquire it. That could include reconnecting east-west streets that were divided by the freeway and building new green space or parkland, a boulevard and new retail, office and residential development.

Garden Party

SB 7 also makes permanent a rent hike freeze for tenants who reside in Caltrans properties in the 710 Corridor and are in the Affordable Rent Program. It also gets rid of the so-called “2012 policy,” an arbitrary rule Caltrans used to prevent tenants who moved in after August 2012 from being eligible for the Affordable Rent Program. The new eligibility deadline is July 1, 2019.

The bill also helps the nonprofit tenants in the 710 Corridor purchase their properties in a fiscally prudent manner,” including Arlington Garden, Ronald McDonald House, Sequoyah School and others. In late 2016, Caltrans announced it would sell the 710 properties in three phases, but so far has only sold a handful. Caltrans has not released a timeline for when the hundreds of remaining properties will be sold. More than 160 houses — including about 50 percent of the houses that Caltrans owns in Pasadena — are vacant and falling into disrepair, according to an investigation by the Pasadena Star-News. Caltrans does not rent out houses again after they become vacant.

Arlington Garden will hold its annual fundraiser, Autumn in the Garden, from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29. During the event, the garden’s newly completed custom Batchelder tile fountain, designed by local artist Cha-Rie Tang, will be dedicated to the founders of the community-built, climate-appropriate garden, Charles McKenney, who died in 2015, and Betty McKenney, who died last year. Charles McKenney served as a member of the Pasadena Board of City Directors, now called the City Council, from 1972 to 1978.

Tickets are $45 and $65. There will also be a special VIP reception from 3 to 4 p.m. Tickets for that event are $150.

Autumn in the Garden will be “an immersive, sensory experience with music curated by dublab, a listener supported, nonprofit radio station dedicated to the growth of music, arts and culture,” according to a press release from Arlington Garden. There will also be other live music performances.

Matthews said Arlington Garden and the other nonprofit tenants are excited to move forward now that the 710 tunnel is officially dead.

“With the passing of SB 7, Sen. Portantino is helping to ensure that our nonprofits, which provide so many public benefits, can afford the properties that we have made improvements on and have long sought to own,” said Matthews.

For more information about Arlington Garden, visit