It’s very possible a person might stumble onto picture proof of a young Richard Bloom earning his chops in civic engagement and activism if he or she were to look through old news archives.
“I grew up in a very turbulent time in the 1960s, and at a school — Fairfax High School — where for whatever reason we were very active for social justice and anti-war activities,” said Bloom, now a state assemblymember for the 50th District. “By the time I graduated, the situation was really kind of burning, and then I shifted to UCLA. There are probably a few photographs with a line of police and me kind of facing off. I’m not in the front line necessarily, but in the group. Not unlike today, there was a good deal of upheaval”
Bloom said he is very much a product of the time, place and family he grew up in. His family was publicly active, and his parents would often regale him of stories about his grandparents who were super involved politically. “So I was kind of swept in, in a sense, in that way.”
Bloom attended his hometown university, UCLA, for two years, but eventually decided he had to leave home to fully blossom, transferring to UC Berkeley, eventually graduating in Communications and Public Policy.
Still, his UCLA ties run deep. “It wasn’t that hard. I got to sit in class with Bill Walton,” he said with a chuckle about the basketball legend. Bloom also said you can find a Daily Bruin issue from back then that included a young Richard Bloom running for student body president at UCLA.
“In my head, I was always interested in participating at that level,” he added. “It didn’t get serious until much later on. When I graduated from law school it was about starting a career, and then after that, getting married and starting a family.”
By the time the 1980s rolled around, Bloom found himself gravitating toward more and more civic engagement in Santa Monica. “There were issues in the city and we had neighborhood-type issues, and because we were tight with a lot of our neighbors after a few years, we ended up going to a formational meeting for a new neighborhood group. That sort of propelled me.”
Friends of Sunset Park was formed, and Bloom eventually became its president. The gig then led to friendly nudges to run for city office.
“I hadn’t really thought about it much until actual council members said so,” Bloom added. “It shocked me they thought I’d be good at the job.”
Here is the part of the story where Bloom noted that persistence and dedication are necessary in public engagement. He ran in 1996 and lost badly. He ran again in 1998, and came within 100 votes of winning. Finally, a council vacancy required a special election and Bloom won. He went on to serve the city for close to 14 years.
All the while, Bloom continued to build his family law practice, specializing in high conflict marriage dissolutions and child custody cases. “Some of those cases take a little piece out of you,” he said. “I’ve seen some very bad things happen.”
As his life increasingly moved toward doing good in the community, Bloom decided to stop practicing law and dedicate himself to a homeless nonprofit. However, the economy crashed and a year later the job was gone.
“I was left trying to figure out what to do next,” he said. “I didn’t want to go back to practicing law. I knew this assembly seat was coming up, and that sort of propelled me forward.”
Representing Assembly District 50, Bloom has been a major higher education advocate, and specifically the UC, where he attended two flagships.
“That leaves an impression on you, and it was a favorable one, certainly on me,” he said, adding that he champions the entire higher education system. Santa Monica Community College is his neighbor and he even has some family ties to the CSU system. “They all have great value and are all additive to one another.”
Bloom has a son who attended UC Santa Barbara during the economic downturn, and he has been very prescient about the more recent struggles affecting the system.
“From my perspective, looking at it from the context of what it imparts to the individuals that pass through the system, it is second to none in the world,” he said of UC. “It also plays an extraordinarily important role in the economic development of the state. The UC system is the main feeder system for a lot of what goes on in the economy of California.”
As an example, Bloom pointed toward the ever-growing tech-boom area known as Silicon Beach.
“The leaders of those companies were telling me how important it was to be near a university like UCLA because they were feeding off the intellectual capital that’s represented from the professors and researchers there. Also, the student body that is graduating and becoming the coders and technicians, and the professionals and business leaders, they are all starting and maintaining these companies in the tech and bio sector,” he added.
Moving forward, Bloom believes it is important to foster leadership and mentorship to shape the next line of activists and political participants. There is no time like the present, he added, noting there is so much work to be done in any number of civic areas.
“I just kind of rode that forward,” he said of the encouragement he received from those around him. “That turned me on to it and made me believe.”