Playa Vista’s HOA director celebrates 20 years of building community
By Bridgette M. Redman / Photo by Chris Mortenson
Dawn Suskin didn’t really plan to be where she is—the executive director for the homeowner’s association of Playa Vista Parks and Landscape—a woman sometimes called “the mayor of Playa Vista” because she knows everyone and everyone knows her.
In fact, she suspects that few people actually choose property management as a career, that everyone sort of falls into it.
In high school, swimming was her thing and she went to college on a swimming scholarship. It wasn’t a great fit and she bounced around to several places before landing in Del Rey as an innkeeper. One of her corporate clients happened to be the marketing director for the community of Playa Vista, staying with them one night a week because he lived in Orange County. He began to mentor Suskin.
“We’d sit in the kitchen and have these conversations, sometimes random, mostly about Playa Vista,” Suskin says.
Then, at the beginning of 2002, she asked him a life-changing question.
“I loved what I was doing, but I didn’t have a lot of growth opportunity,” Suskin says. “I said, ‘Hey, Ken, do you think there is a job for me at Playa Vista?’ He said he’d been waiting for years for me to ask and that it was important to do it in my own time.”
She made the switch and has been with Playa Vista ever since. She started out her first year in the information center, which is where she got to know many of the original homeowners who would come into the sales office. She said it allowed her to learn a lot about the community before moving over to the homeowner’s association side in June 2003.
Suskin describes her job as a unique experience. She worked at the front desk as a concierge and served in many different roles along the way to executive director. Each one gave her a new perspective and helped her serve the community more.
“I was here for the first home close, the first homeowner to move in, and this past September, we had our last home built and closed,” Suskin says. “I was here pretty much for the entire development. I love this community. I love what we do. I love the fact that we have the ability to enhance not just the experience our residents have, but also improve the value of their homes. And where else are you going to meet people from all over the world in one community?”
Having sustained a role in Playa Vista for 20 years, Suskin says she has grown with the community; that as the community developed, so did she.
“I feel like I’ve grown into myself here,” Suskin says. “I feel like I still have more that I can do, so I hope that I am here for many more years to come. I truly do love this community and I want to continue to make a difference.”
Playa Vista has 420 acres and 6,000-plus residential units. There are 29 community parks, two club houses and they hope to have their beach shuttle returning Memorial Day Weekend.
Suskin likes that they have created a community that is similar to the one in Ventura County that she grew up in. She lived in a neighborhood where people didn’t just know their next-door neighbor, they knew their neighbors three to four blocks away. While that was a different time, she has been able to recreate some of that sense of community.
“I really do feel Playa Vista encompasses that old-school community neighborhood feel,” Suskin says.
Now, 20 years into the job, Suskin says every day is still different. She’s always kept on her toes and the job is always interesting. She’s also surrounded by people she knows.
“I like to pride myself on being pretty approachable and available for people,” Suskin says. “I like the fact that I can make a difference. I enjoy driving or walking through the community and having simple conversations with people. It’s nice to connect.”
The past two years in particular have brought new challenges as they worked their way through the pandemic. Playa Vista is not its own city, it is part of the City of Los Angeles. In mid-2020, they had to close down their clubhouses, pools and parks. People had a hard time understanding why they couldn’t play in the parks.
“We’re part of the city and the county of LA, and we’re bound by the same laws,” Suskin says. “It was hard having to explain that even though our parks are privately maintained and owned, they are open to the public, which means we are bound by the same park closures that the rest of the city is. That was hard.”
Even while their facilities were closed, they still had their jobs to do. The pools and facilities had to be maintained. The landscapers still came out and had to be paid. The expenses of the community still existed even though the residents couldn’t use many of the things they were paying for.
“Residents were certainly more scrutinizing of the work we do,” Suskin says. “Why do I have to pay even though I can’t use the clubhouse or the parks? We had to explain that we cut back as much as possible, we cut out all the ancillary costs, but we still had to pay the landscaper, the community patrol officers and the janitors. There was still work to be done even though the services normally available were not there. That was challenging.”
She remains committed to making sure that they provide the services that the community has learned to expect and enjoy. She wants to see the parks and greenery kept as attractive as they can, keep the facilities and equipment up to date, and make sure they stay on par with technology.
While the career isn’t one Suskin planned on having, it’s one she is glad that she fell into and looks forward to continuing to serve Playa Vista and its residents.