By Melina Sempill Watts
In Calabasas, both the City Council and voters have pushed towards sustainability…but what does it take to actually get there?
The answer is not a what, but a who: Alex Farassati, Environmental Services Manager.
In partnership with city leadership, his colleagues and the community, for the last 18 years, Alex has focused on trash reduction, water conservation, tree planting, recycling, a plastic bag ban, environmental events and programs and creek restoration.
What’s super intriguing is while Alex started off training as an architect, and got a Masters, then he and his wife moved to Paris, where he earned a PhD in Political Science and Geography. Graduation required a 500 page dissertation…in French. Coming back to California, Alex started working in urban planning in Culver City, but after losing about two hours a day in a commute from Woodland Hills to Culver City, Alex made the jump to Calabasas and to environmental programming.
Alex’s key insight: if you want to create a sustainable society, your first priority has to be conservation education. To help galvanize sustainability inspiration, he started the Community Recycling Awareness Calendar, which invites students K – 8 to submit drawings. Alex has been central to the City of Calabasas Youth Council, both coordinating their meetings and supporting students’ efforts to participate in local conservation work. This layers into how Alex works: he brings in new interns every year, giving them opportunities to develop and manage sustainability projects. When his interns go to job interviews, each one has a meaningful project to showcase.
When it comes to on the ground sustainability, Alex made Las Virgenes Creek restoration the centerpiece of Calabasas’ conservation efforts. Dividing the project up into three phases, Alex has been responsible for obtaining funding, supervising the hiring of outside design teams, and managing implementation. Phase I, adjacent to the Albertson’s parking, running from the 101 freeway to Agoura Road is complete, as is Phase II which runs behind the A.E. Wright Middle School. While pulling huge broken cement pipes out of the creek, restoring the creek and its banks was central to this project, a poetic wooden bridge was also built across the creek, giving generations of students the ability to go from the neighborhood on one side of the creek over to the school itself. Alex has obtained about half the funding for Phase III, near De Anza Park, and is about to enter talks with the California Wildlife Conservation Board for, potentially, the last piece of funding.
Alex and his wife have raised two adult children, a daughter, now a biomedical engineer and a son, now a video engineer.
As someone who moved to California at age 18 and who has spent decades working in the context of local city governments, Alex has profound insights into how America functions. So, for the last two decades, Alex has been writing in Farsi for a number publications in Iran, “About history, about environment, civil society, how civil society works in the United States, how democracy works here.” He observes, “There is so much animosity between the two governments — there is a lot of misinformation. They either learn about the United States in a bad way from the government propaganda or they see and they learn through Hollywood. Both of them are fake, so I try to give them a different perspective on life in the United States, how we do things here, how we work in the cities, how we manage grants, how we handle administration, how we hire people, I give them all the details. People really like these articles, it is the first time real, personal experiences, that I share with my heart about how we work.”
When asked what he would take on next if he retired, as we sat inside the City of Calabasas, Alex smiled, “Stain glass windows. I did one outside here in the lobby.” Imagine the light how Alex sees it.