Two for two: Chatterji, Giancoli seek two year term

The Beach Cities Health District’s Healthy Living Campus would redevelop the former South Bay Hospital. The redevelopment could be the district’s next evolutionary step in preventative healthcare for Beach Cities residents. Rendering courtesy BCHD

In November 2016, three incumbents were re-elected to the Beach Cities Health District Board of Directors: Lenore Bloss, Jane Diehl, and Vanessa Poster. But in April 2017, Bloss stepped down from the board, citing health issues. The board opted to appoint an interim replacement, and hold an election in November 2018 for the two years remaining in Bloss’ term. In June 2017, the board appointed Vish Chatterji. Chatterji is running for the two-year term against Andrea Giancoli.

More yoga business

Vish Chatterji had been on a business hot streak long enough that he knew to trust his strategic instincts. The tough decision came when he had to consider issues beyond dollars and cents.

Several years ago, Chatterji, a Redondo Beach resident, began building a web startup out of his backyard, focusing on the emerging “Internet of Things,” using physical objects to collect troves of data for rapid product improvement. He and his partner, a fellow South Bay resident, had “done the impossible” Chatterji recalled in an interview, to meet the demands of investors. But when those same investors wanted him to force his partner out of the business, Chatterji began wondering if he was doing things the right way.  

“I came out thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is right for me. I don’t know if I’m really cut out for this type of life,’” he said.

For guidance, Chatterji relied on his yoga and meditation practice, which for two decades had been both the way he began each day, and a steadying force amid the stress and strain of the business world. But as he confronted his doubts about his career, he began to wonder if it might offer even more.

When his longtime teacher came to Southern California, Chatterji asked why he was having such trouble with his career. His teacher’s cryptic response was, “‘You do more yoga business, and your business will be okay,’” Chatterji recalled. Today, Chatterji teaches yoga and meditation to the corporate world. He is an executive coach offering a service that, a decade ago, might have been scoffed at. But his audience is being gradually won over by new ways of thinking about what it means to take care of oneself. And since being appointed to the health district board in June 2017 to fill the vacancy created by Bloss’ exit, Chatterji has prided himself on his ability to combine the seemingly disparate worlds of keen-eyed financial analysis and mind-body medicine.

This is especially true, he said, when it comes to looming decisions on the future of the health district campus. Among the proposals to emerge from the planning stage is housing for older adults. His business background, he said, will help him ask the right questions.

“We’re talking about an 11-acre campus redevelopment. What are the numbers? Why are we doing this? What’s the financial case?” Chatterji said.

Vish Chatterji, appointed to the health district last year, teaches yoga and mindfulness to corporations and executives. Photo courtesy Vish Chatterji

But he would not be coming at the issue solely from the detached perspective of the ledger. Chatterji’s mother suffers from dementia, and his father had Alzheimer’s disease. While his father was able to age at home, his mother had to move to an assisted living facility, giving him insight into two very different sides of one of the biggest issues associated with the Beach Cities’ aging population.

Redondo City Council member Christian Horvath met Chatterji at a barbecue in his district. The barbecue preceded Chatterji’s dive into the wellness business, but Horvath could see that his new friend was already engaged in health issues. Along with his experience with his parents, Chatterji had started volunteering with the health district as a garden docent in local schools. Spurred on by his new career, and reading Dan Buettner’s book “The Blue Zones,” Chatterji decided to run for a seat on the health district in November 2016. He sought one of the three available seats, but came up against three incumbents, and lost. After Bloss stepped down, Horvath encouraged Chatterji to apply for the interim appointment.

Horvath said he recognized a kindred spirit in Chatterji: someone who was not driven by self-aggrandizement, but who saw the difference that sensible policy could make for a community.

“It’s more than, we have families, we care about where we live, and we want to get stuff done,” Horvath recalled.

If elected, Chatterji hopes to push the board further along a path that is evidence-based and financially accountable, but also forward-thinking. He recalled a trip he made to Sacramento with health district CEO Tom Bakaly, and a discussion with a legislator over what exactly “healthcare” meant. For too many people — including some in government and the health insurance business — the term is still limited to, say, giving someone a pill to treat an illness, rather than investing in ways to prevent that person from getting sick in the first place. As the Beach Cities tackle prominent local issues, such as stress and substance abuse, it has a chance to reshape the way the country thinks about healthy living.

“Our role as a health district is to be a thought leader: to think about health in a completely different way,” Chatterji said.

Cutting up the apple

Andrea Giancoli was in the midst of working with the nation’s second-largest school district when she confronted a problem that has been vexing parents at the dinner table for decades: how to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables.

Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian, would focus on environmental changes to make healthy choices easier to make. Photo courtesy Andrea Giancoli

The Los Angeles Unified School District had hired Giancoli, a registered dietitian with a masters degree in public health, to help improve its nutrition and physical education policies. Some of those efforts, including limits on sugary drinks, went on to spread throughout the state, creating major changes in the buying patterns of some of California’s largest meal providers. But for Giancoli, the true lesson of the experience was about the power of making it easier for all people, including children, to make healthy choices. This takes work and research up front, she said, but it can reveal small tweaks that can make big differences.

“I’m not saying to go in there and give everyone hummus: you find out what’s going to work. You do a needs assessment. You don’t just give them an apple. You give them a cut up apple, and they eat it,” Giancoli said.

Giancoli is a Hermosa resident with a record of civic volunteerism. She has served on the health district’s livability committee, Hermosa’s General Plan Working Group, and was recently appointed to another term as a member of the city’s Public Works Commission. Her involvement has prompted some in the community to recommend she run for City Council, she said, but her passion has always been health. For Giancoli, who previously worked for the health district as a policy analyst, getting a seat on the board would be the best way for her to continue helping her community. And if elected, one of her areas of focus would be on how the Beach Cities can institute environmental changes to encourage healthy habits and behaviors — like pre-slicing apples, but on a bigger scale.

“Environmental change is the change that’s going to have the most impact. We have to make environmental changes so that healthy choices are easier: so that the healthy choice is the easy choice,” Giancoli said.

The environmental changes she is talking about include bike lanes and wider sidewalks: things that will make it easier for people to get everyday necessities done without getting in a car. Evidence from the Blue Zones Project, with which the health district has a longstanding partnership, indicates that this kind of frequent, moderate physical activity is correlated with longer lifespans. And dense neighborhoods, where people frequently have chance run-ins with friends, help build a sense of community far better than the anonymity of sprawling suburbs.

Giancoli recognizes, however, that some of these changes, like bike lanes, face stiff resistance from many people in the community. And decisions about what kind of infrastructure to implement would ultimately rest with a city council, not the health district. Through her experience on Hermosa’s public works commission, which frequently considers this kind of project, Giancoli realized she was a good listener, and that the key to making good decisions is to make sure everyone feels heard.

“I always hope to go into a meeting finding out something I didn’t know already. Once you start hearing from the public, there’s always something that will make me go: ‘Well, let me think about that.’ That’s my commitment,” she said.

Hermosa resident James Scott got to know Giancoli through their time together on the board of Leadership Hermosa Beach. Scott said that he appreciates how Giancoli could be a voice on the board for Hermosa, whose small size and unique issues he worries may get neglected. (Giancoli said that, if elected, she would ask the health district board to explore creating voting districts, rather than the current at-large system.) And he admired the way her campaign was driven by her personal commitment to health issues.

“One of the reasons she is campaigning so hard is that a lot of people don’t pay attention to the health district, kind of like with judges,” he said. “But it is important who is on that board. It makes a difference. And no matter who wins a seat on the board, her campaign will raise awareness for all that the district does, and all that it can do.”

For all of her ambition, Giancoli is also quick to tout existing district programs. She pointed to initiatives directed at helping people age in place, including home visits, help with errands and social-emotional support. But not enough people take advantage of these services, she said. Raising the district’s profile would be among Giancoli’s priorities if elected.

“A lot of people, not only do they not know about what the district does, they don’t even know that we have a health district,” Giancoli said.


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