Our Team - River LA

We Are Experienced. We Are Diverse.

Omar Brownson Executive Director

As an Angeleno, Omar is inspired by the way the LA River brings our region together. He is amazed to wake up every day and love what he does – working to make LA a better place for all. When he first visited the LA River, he fell in love with its possibilities. It offers public space, water (really!), and a continuous greenway for 51 miles that extends through the heart of our city.

As Executive Director of River LA, Omar leads our strategic vision. He seeks to build a broad coalition across the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to champion the LA River. River LA acts as a hub to drive forward tangible change along the river.

Omar was hired in January 2011 with a background in purpose-driven real estate finance, project development and community investment. His track record is entrepreneurial, rooted in scaling transformational initiatives. He completed a joint-Masters in Public Policy and Urban Planning from the Harvard Kennedy School and Graduate School of Design where his team won the ULI/Hines Urban Design Competition. He served in Americorps as a Public Ally and then was a Coro Fellow after graduating from the University of California, Davis.  

Among other leadership roles and recognitions, he has served as Chair of the Board of the Liberty Hill Foundation; Southern California Leadership Network California Connections Fellow; Member of the Mayor’s Los Angeles Food Policy Council; the Advisory Council of the venture philanthropy group REDF; Advisory Board of the for-profit social enterprise Isidore Recycling; and Stanton Fellowship of the Durfee Foundation (2014-15).  

Omar thinks pretty much every weekend spent with his family is ideal.

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Jennifer Samson Director of Real Estate Development

Jennifer's interest in the LA River is rooted in her passion for great urban spaces. A major reason for her return to Los Angeles from New York was to build a better LA. She is certain the LA River is the perfect opportunity to do just that--to enrich neighborhoods, to build iconic landmarks, and to place-make an unprecedented 51-mile multi-benefit urban infrastructure amenity that inspires Angelenos to get outside and enjoy shared public space with their family, friends, and neighbors.

Jennifer handles all aspects of the River LA's real estate development including deal sourcing, structuring financing, securing entitlements, and overseeing projects from construction through to completion. She is set to break ground on River LA's first project and the City of LA’s first cable-stayed bridge, the La Kretz Crossing (N. Atwater Bridge). The La Kretz Crossing is also the first-ever privately funded bridge infrastructure in the City of Los Angeles. Upon completion, the $9.66MM cable-stayed multi-modal bridge will be gifted to the City for the benefit of the LA River and all Angelenos.

Prior to joining the River LA team, Jennifer was a Project Manager for Thomas Safran & Associates, a California affordable housing developer that has completed, owns, and operates over 4,000 residential units and has been in business for nearly 40 years. During her time there, she successfully applied for and secured $6MM in tax credit financing, was responsible for the various stages of acquisition, development, and construction of over 100 units, and a development budget of over $50MM. Previously, Jennifer's earliest experience with real estate development was with Livable Places, a Los Angeles non-profit sustainable housing developer that created the Olive Court community in Long Beach and Fuller Lofts in north east Los Angeles.

Jennifer holds a Master of Business Administration as well as a Master of Real Estate Development from the University of Southern California, where she attended as a full-tuition Consortium for Graduate Study in Management Fellow. She completed her undergraduate studies at New York University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Bachelor of Arts in Romance Languages. Jennifer is also a governing board member of Gay For Good, a national non-profit that aims to energize and mobilize the LGBT community to interact with the broader community by volunteering time to various social welfare and environmental service projects.

Her ideal LA weekend involves surfing, followed by eating brunch with her wife somewhere recommended by Jonathan Gold.

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Eli A. Kaufman Creative Director

The Los Angeles River captured Eli's imagination the first time he laid eyes on it...eight long years after moving to LA. His zeal to share the story and the possibility of the 51 miles is motivated by how integral it is to the health, prosperity, and culture of the region he now calls home. Eli is thrilled to do his part to help LA become a more walkable, bikeable and people-centric city.

As Creative Director, Eli builds brand awareness, advocacy, and engagement for River LA. He works across the organization and with external partners to implement communication strategies that resonate with existing audiences, while also finding meaningful ways to engage new audiences with the river.

Prior to joining River LA, Eli was a Creative Strategist at A Hundred Years, a creative consultancy that leverages design and technology to create long-term impact. While at A Hundred Years he developed the narrative logic and facilitated workshops around the digital experiences he co-created for partners including The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, TED-Ed, The Rockefeller Foundation, ONE.org and Disney Imagineering among others. Between 2011-2013, Eli served as the Head of Video Production at GOOD Magazine where he developed, produced and/or directed video campaigns for brands including The GAP, Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, FedEx, Apollo, IBM, and The Tiger Woods Foundation. His GOOD work has screened at numerous film festivals as well as LACMA, TEDx, and has been featured on the front pages of YouTube, UpWorthy and Soul Pancake. From 2008-2011, Eli was the Senior Content Producer for Film Independent’s diverse educational programs as well as the Spirit Awards on IFC and The Los Angeles Film Festival at LA Live. While at Film Independent, Eli was fortunate to interview many of his Indie-Film heroes and continues to draw inspiration from the insights they shared.

Eli earned his MFA at UCLA’s School of Film, Television and Digital Media with a concentration in Directing and has a B.A from Oberlin College in English and History where he played four years Varsity Lacrosse. He is a founding parent of the IKAR Early Childhood Center Garden, serves as a mentor for Creative Visions Foundation and beats traffic as a bicycle commuter and Metro rider. 

His ideal weekend in Los Angeles involves having adventures around town with his son and a few hours gardening in his raised bed with their pit bull Nala.

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Jon Switalski – Director of External Affairs

Jon views the LA River as a source of life and has the potential to be a binding force that brings our communities together. Jon has worked for much of his career to enact public policy that improves how people live, move and work within their communities, policies that aim to protect our environment while providing economic and social justice for everyone.

 

Previously, Jon was the V.P. for Government Affairs at an electric vehicle startup. Prior to that Jon was a Macomb County Commissioner, representing the city of Warren for four years. He then was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives where served for the maximum of six years.. There he held various leadership roles and enacted far reaching, impactful legislation. First elected to the Macomb County Board of Commissioners and then to Michigan House of Representatives, Jon authored a Complete Streets statute that modernized decades of transportation planning. From designing roads and communities that only serve an individual vehicle to transportation infrastructure design that included the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit riders and those with disabilities.

Renewable energy policy was also central to Jon’s legislative agenda. He spent much of his last-term in office writing legislation to democratize energy production, to adopt a feed-in-tariff policy, to invest in micro-grids and to provide financing for community solar gardens. Overall, this legislation would provide the regulatory framework to allow consumer and producers freedom to choose the source of their energy.

After ten years of service and being term-limited from elected office, Jon had the desire to continue his efforts to create positive change in a dynamic, progressive environment. California and Los Angeles proved to be just the opportunity he was looking for and River LA is just that effort. Jon couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of this transformative change. Jon holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Grand Valley State in Michigan. He enjoys playing golf, hiking and of course spending as much time at the beach as possible. Jon also is an avid traveler.

 

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Melissa Puls - Director of Development

The possibilities of the Los Angeles River has captured Melissa’s imagination and ignited a passion to be a part of the transformation. Melissa arrived in Los Angeles from the San Francisco Bay Area to attend UCLA, thinking she would return to her northern California roots to begin her career. Destiny intervened and she came to love the City of Angels where she has worked and raised her family for over 30 years.

Recognizing an emerging new energy in Los Angeles to create a connected, diverse, and compelling urban environment, Melissa sees the work of River LA as one of the most visionary and forward thinking projects in the history of Los Angeles.  

In her role as Development Manager for River LA, Melissa supports individual donor fundraising initiatives and related systems and strategies, creating and managing an integrated and sustainable fundraising program. Her job is to support resource capacities, build relationships, and create long term funding streams connected to the important mission of bringing people, nature and design together via the L.A. River. Melissa has a passion for building meaningful relationships and partnerships; and enjoys helping people channel the energy and power of money towards positive change.

Melissa spent over 20 years in the advertising industry as an executive level commercial film producer for leading full-service advertising agencies, working with top national and international corporate brands including Nestle, Lexus, Ford, Mattel, Wells Fargo, Honda and Safeway. After the birth of her three children, she made a choice to redirect the skills towards a new career in the non-profit world and fundraising as the Director of Development & Communications for a not-for-profit K-12 school in the Pasadena area. In this role she created and led a fully integrated advancement program, including annual appeals, major gifts, capital campaigns, events, and volunteer leadership growth. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a specialization in Mass Communications and Media Institutions from the University of California, Los Angeles.  

Melissa currently resides in La Canada Flintridge with her husband and three teenaged children, two cats and a dog.  When she isn't raising money for the river, she enjoys cooking, family game nights, and long hikes in the San Gabriel mountains.

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Jason Foster - Operations Manager

Jason serves as the Operations Manager of River LA. For the organization, Jason ensures organizational effectiveness by providing leadership for the organization’s financial health.

Most recently, Jason worked as a Project Manager for Pratt Area Community Council in Brooklyn, New York, managing the construction and tenant relocations for two affordable housing projects. Jason has a Bachelor of Business Administration, Finance from Howard University in Washington DC. He also holds a Master of Business Administration from the Metropolitan College of New York. Upon moving to Los Angeles in 2011, Jason participated in the Ross Minority Program in Real Estate at the University of Southern California. Jason also serves as an Executive Committee member of the Beta Chapter Alumni Association (Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, Howard University) and is an active alumnus of Public Allies of New York (AmeriCorps).

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Jason was drawn to the Los Angeles River because of its vast potential and his memories along the Tennessee River after Volunteer football games.

His ideal weekend consists of hosting events with this company, The Gifted Life, or spending time with family and friends. 

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Julia Guy- Grant Writer

Julia is inspired by the vision for the LA River as a great public space where communities can gather, live, work, and play. As a lover of the outdoors and unique urban spaces, Julia is looking forward to running, biking, kayaking, and exploring the LA River.

In her role as Grant Writer, Julia is responsible for developing and writing proposals to grant-making organizations. Fueled by her love of writing and storytelling, Julia is eager to support the place-making team by sharing River LA’s mission and projects with potential funders. She believes investment in the LA River is an opportunity for Angelenos to reclaim a grand civic space and enjoy the benefits of a more vibrant and sustainable Los Angeles.

Prior to joining River LA, Julia spent the last four years grant writing for Orange County nonprofits specializing in community building and development. Julia holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech in Public and Urban Affairs with an emphasis on planning, policy, and community development. Upon her return to California, she interned in city planning prior to joining the nonprofit sector in 2011.

Julia’s ideal weekend consists of hiking local trails followed by hosting dinner parties with friends.

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Natalie Gonzalez - Executive Assistant

Natalie believes a revitalized LA River can change how all Angelenos think about nature and conservation for the better. She is hopeful that the river can bring people of all backgrounds together while improving their lives.

Natalie is passionate about the environment and encourages others to explore and support it, whether it is in their own backyard or thousands of miles away. As a native Angeleno who was away for five years, she is excited to explore urban conservation in her hometown. 

Natalie has a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources and a minor in Biology from Cornell University. She also has a Master of Science in Conservation Project Management from the University of Kent. 

Natalie’s ideal weekend involves time with loved ones, being surrounded by her four cats and three dogs, and eating delicious food.

 

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Ignacio Lopez - Community Engagement

Ignacio grew up around the river and always saw it as a public space where he and his friends could gather and enjoy the open space.  He later served his country in the Marine Corps and upon completing his service was connected to the River LA via Mission Continues, a non-profit that transitions military back into civilian life.  

Ignacio is amazed at the work River LA is accomplishing in his own community and is excited to be a part of it.  As an active member in the community Ignacio often bikes, kayaks, runs, and explores along the LA River. 

In his role doing community engagement, Ignacio is responsible for reaching the community in a meaningful way to get them to see the beauty and potential of the Los Angeles River as he sees it through his own eyes.  He believes that the LA River will become a resource in Los Angeles for all Angelenos to explore and enjoy.

Prior to Ignacio spent the last 7 years in the United States Marine Corps serving his country and is excited return to his home town to make a difference and serve in his community.

Ignacio’s ideal weekend consists of long hikes and bungee jumping but he still enjoys tamer evenings with friend’s salsa dancing.

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Daniel Postaer Artist in Residence

Daniel Lee Postaer is an American artist/photographer.  Born in Chicago and raised in Southern California by a Chinese mother and American father, Daniel recently graduated with an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2015 where he received the Fellowship in Photography.  

Postaer left an international marketing and entertainment career for the life-changing pursuit and craft of picture-making.  His work explores the ways in which humanity reconciles and resists modernity – across global booms, busts and the transitional spaces in between – as he addresses questions of capital, race/ethnicity, and historical belonging.  Postaer’s prints are wide-scale and of the hyper-moment; surreal scenes of everyday urban theatre.  These scenes, he describes, are roughly “eighty-percent non-fiction / twenty-percent fiction,” with as much interest in what a picture may never reveal.  Current projects include Motherland (Urban China), Boomtown (San Francisco), The Desert (Palm Springs), Wilshire Boulevard and The River (Los Angeles). 

http://www.danielpostaer.com/work/the-river/

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