Sarah hays - Remembered

From the Greenway’s infancy in January 2007 until she saw water finally flow in October 2020, Sarah Hays worked hard to make the project as beautiful and environmentally beneficial as possible.  That was just her way.

When Sarah died Oct. 23, shortly after a stroke, she left the world a much better place.  As an architect, Sarah was rightly proud of her award-winning work on Pisgah Village.  She co-founded Light Rail for Cheviot, which advocated for building Metro’s E line light rail and later volunteered on the line’s urban design committee. 

The deep sense of loss that poured forth from the community reflected the gratitude that Rancho Park and the wider region feel for Sarah’s many contributions in her short 66 years.  Below is a summary of some of Sarah’s achievements followed by a recording of the Nov. 4 Los Angeles City Council meeting adjourning in her honor, which is a form of recognition reserved only for citizens who contribute the most to the city.



Sarah at the Greenway for pump testing (October 14, 2020)

Sarah’s friend and neighbor (and Greenway supporter) Meg Sullivan wrote the following tribute:

My dear neighbor and friend Sarah Hays was the closest our neighborhood of Rancho Park has ever had to a saint.

After moving to the neighborhood around the same time I did, Sarah calculated that more residents would favor light rail than oppose it. Motivated by that hunch, she and UC Irvine anthropology prof Karen Leonard spent years knocking on doors and holding living room meetings to mobilize support for running the Expo Line through an abandoned railroad right of way in the neighborhood. For generations, neighborhood elites had scuttled such efforts. But Light Rail for Cheviot Hills prevailed. I’d never been involved in a neighborhood project, much less one that succeeded. The experience was exhilarating.

In one of my last emails from Sarah, she excitedly recounted having finally seen water course through the Expo Line Greenway, which became her next epic endeavor.  Along with neighbors Jonathan Weiss, Annette Mercer and Sean McMillan, Sarah worked for more than a decade to turn open land flanking the tracks between Overland Avenue and Westwood Boulevard into a linear park. The project showcases native plants and features beautifully undulating swales that clean run-off destined for Ballona Creek and the ocean.

A consummate environmentalist who drove an electric car before it was fashionable, Sarah was the kind of person who found bee rescuers for hives that scared neighbors and mounted special boxes to attract bluebirds. Even if you never knew Sarah personally, you may have visited her house. Her magnificent native garden was a perennial stop on the Theodore Payne Foundation’s annual garden tour.

After earning a B.A. in history from Stanford, she trained as an architect, specializing in affordable housing.  Her projects included the 2007 rehabilitation of the Craftsman-era Pisgah Village in Highland Park, which won the Governor’s Historic Preservation and L.A. Conservancy awards. But Sarah’s interests were wide-ranging:  She was a salsera, quilter extraordinaire, diehard Joni Mitchell fan, lover of old clocks, CicLAvia enthusiast and repeat “Hamilton”-attender (NYC, LA, London and, if you count “Spamilton,” Culver City). She was also an intrepid genealogist whose obsession to piece together her family story took her from the Mormon Temple up the street to remote English villages. Most humans would be lucky to receive the care that she lavished on her elderly and disabled dogs.

Sarah seemed to have one of those “sticky” personalities. She still palled around with her Marlborough classmates, including Lois Becker and Charlotte Leisure Morgan, and her neighbor from two decades ago Evangeline Galicia. She vacationed with her siblings (Jon, Margaret and Liz Hays), brother-in-law John Van Kan and daughter Evelyn and her fiancé Drew Murray.

The Democratic party never had a more loyal foot soldier. Sarah threw herself into one campaign after another and was an enthusiastic companion at protests and canvassing efforts.

Sarah was the closest I ever came to a Southern California Blue Blood.  She used to joke that her family wasn’t “Old Citrus,” but it clearly had deep and venerable roots in Riverside County.   The Hays family owned the Riverside Press-Enterprise during the newspaper’s heyday, when it won two Pulitzer Prizes.  Her uncle was instrumental in saving the Mission Inn, which I had the pleasure of visiting with Sarah a couple of years ago.  To the end, she orchestrated care of her mother Esther Hays, a retired leukemia research and UCLA Health dean, whose home sits in the middle of a working orange orchard in Riverside.  Sarah’s father, Daniel M. Hays, who preceded her in death, was a prominent pediatric surgeon who taught at USC.  In retirement, he was active in Riverside civic life, leading the restoration of Victoria Avenue, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

I always figured there would be time for Sarah to map out the perfect Rome itinerary for my husband and me. She lived there for a decade or so and remained hopelessly besotted.  She read Italian novels in Italian, and was up for any Italian movie.

With her sister Liz, Sarah spent the summer preparing their parent’s East Glacier Park, Montana, vacation home for Evelyn’s wedding there next spring.  Evelyn was Sarah’s everything.


A memorial boulder sits on the Greenway near the light rail line – reflecting two of Sarah’s passion projects.  Within sycamore leaf outlines, it says:


In Memory of

Sarah Hays

A friend, neighbor, architect, artist,

and native plant advocate,

without whom this piece of

paradise would have been paved.

She gave the birds and

bees the plants that they need.

We honor her light tread on

the Earth.



The “paradise would have been paved” phrase is a nod to the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by one of Sarah’s favorite artists, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

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