By VINCE MEEHAN
It would be difficult to live, shop or play in North Park with any frequency without knowing Angela Landsberg. Everybody knows Angela Landsberg. She has been the Executive Director of North Park Main Street (NPMS) for 11 years – becoming the face of the many small businesses on the neighborhood’s popular 30th Street.
San Diego City Council members know her, business owners know her, and Mayor Todd Gloria knows her – because Landsberg has led a very high-profile career at NPMS. But now, Landsberg is leaving NPMS to become the Executive Director for the San Diego County Dental Society (SDCDS). The move marks the end of an era in North Park but also the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in Landsberg’s life.
The SDCDS has been around since 1887 and is the largest professional organization representing dentists in San Diego and Imperial Counties. Membership is voluntary and the Society now has over 2,000 members in this association. It serves as the local arm of both the California Dental Association and the American Dental Association. The SDCDS includes a foundation called the San Diego County Dental Foundation (SDCDF), which was founded in 1992 by dentists in the San Diego County area to provide funding for dental health education and access to dental care as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Landsberg will also be Executive Director of this foundation, which is currently running a dental health clinic at San Diego Veteran’s Village (SDVV) in the Midway area. The SDVV works to house homeless veterans as well as provide them with essential health services. It was this service work that convinced Landsberg to leave her longtime post.
“I’ve had an increasing interest in working with the unsheltered population and creating programs to address the issue,” Landsberg noted. “So I was looking for my next career move to involve some elements of that and this job was perfect because it allowed me to continue my work – that I love doing – working for a membership organization. North Park Main Street was a membership organization, our members were small business owners and property owners, and the members of the San Diego County Dental Society are dentists, so we have a membership organization, and then we also have a foundation which is the other part of the work that I’m doing.”
At NPMS, Landsberg had direct interaction with the homeless population on a daily basis. Since Landsberg’s job at NPMS was to advocate for the local businesses, she had to face the homelessness crisis on a regular basis when business owners found unsheltered people in their storefronts or parking lots. But rather than looking at the homeless as adversaries of the small businesses she represented, she saw them as unsheltered humans that deserved to be helped as opposed to run out of town. This juxtaposition was a familiar theme that she found herself in quite often at NPMS. She called this the “awkward position of having to advocate for both sides” of a dispute that more often than not, pitted the City against some of her business owners, or in this case, the owners’ rights versus the unsheltered people’s rights. Her empathy for a population business owners worried would drive sales down led her to her current position where she can be a part of the solution and make a difference.
“The foundation that I am in charge of provides dental care to lots of individuals who would not otherwise have access to it and a big portion of that is a clinic that we have over at Veterans Village San Diego that provides restorative dental care to veterans. So we’re talking about giving people new smiles which is live-changing for them,” Landsberg said.
Landsberg credits her 11 years at NPMS with giving her the non-profit experience that landed her the leadership position at both the SDCDS and the SDCDF. Though she has no familiarity with dental specifics, her experience at NPMS is really the factor that will be key to her success. Working within the outlines of mission statements, seeking donations and planning events as well as her experience working with a board of directors was key in securing her new position.
“We’re working to improve the profession of dentistry and help increase the vitality of the community,” added Landsberg. “I’m having to learn the terms, but the functions of running a non-profit are very much the same.”
Landsberg is confident that she can transfer seamlessly into her new role. The SDCDF hosts a huge fundraising gala every year called “An Evening in Old Hollywood” to raise funds for the Geis Dental Clinic at the Veterans Village of San Diego. The Geis Dental Clinic provides the completely free comprehensive dental care to formerly homeless veterans currently residing at Veterans Village of San Diego. This year the event will be held at the Hilton Del Mar and it is always a fun and successful event. These type of events come second nature to Landsberg, who produced several events annually like The Taste of North Park, the North Park Music Fest and many more events that drew business to the neighborhood.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s that much different. I’m still networking, I’m building relationships, and I’m providing assistance to people. We do have events, and in fact, the dentistry society puts on quite a few events. Our events are not based necessarily around breweries and restaurants, but we do provide classes and e-classes so it’s good,” she said.
Landsberg leaves behind some big shoes to fill for the next leader of NPMS. The position has not been filled and NPMS is currently looking at candidates for the position.
“They (NPMS) are going to look for somebody who understands how to work with the community in collaborative ways, they’re going to look for someone who has a good finger on the pulse of what North Park currently is – where it’s been and where it’s going,” she said. “They are going to be looking for someone who can work well with a variety of different needs coming their way. You’ve got people who are like, ‘Well, I need this done,’ and the city will say, ‘Well, we need to make sure we are going to put a median in the center of the street to slow traffic,’ and you’re going to have businesses say, ‘well, you’re blocking our left hand turn lane which means people aren’t going to be able to get to my business.’ So, you have to negotiate and navigate through some really difficult conversations with opposing needs.”
She said that candidates should have experience in working with communities, understanding State, County and City policies as well as a working knowledge of how government agencies operate. They must possess a professional demeanor as well as the ability to run a meeting. Previously working with a non-profit is not necessarily a condition for hire.
“That can be learned really. That’s not something that I think is a necessary requirement. I think it’s those people skills that are really gonna make the difference. It’s somebody that knows how to hustle. Somebody who knows how to get things done – with minimal resources – and maximizing the resources that are available,” Landsberg said.