LOS ANGELES — The constellation of neighborhoods and smaller cities that constitute what Americans think of as Los Angeles brings to mind lots of competing reference points: towering palms and glistening lowriders. Botox clinics and tattoo parlors. Tofu and tacos, "Gin and Juice." Earthquakes and uprisings.
What isn't necessarily seared into the imagination is Brentwood, an exclusive neighborhood in West Los Angeles where Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris lives.
But this once low-key island of privilege isn't as isolated as it used to be. In the year and a half since Harris launched a bid for her party's presidential nomination, the problems of the country she wants to help lead — poverty, racial inequities, climate change, civil discord — have inched closer to her doorstep.
In Brentwood, the who's who of entertainment, business and politics live along streets that reach up into the steep hills that line the northern fringe of the city. Many of the houses look more like palaces. Lawns sprawl out like botanical gardens. People identify themselves according to the canyon they live in.
"Even though L.A. is sort of this huge, wide-open metropolis, Brentwood is kind of in its own pocket," said Aaron Sandler, a producer on the TV game show "Let's Make a Deal" who grew up in neighboring Santa Monica, attended Brentwood School and now lives in the area. As he walked his dog on a fire road high above Brentwood, Sandler gazed out over a sliver of the Pacific beyond a procession of barren ridges — a breathtaking vision of emptiness in crowded L.A.
Harris, the junior U.S. senator from California, has been able to live under the radar here in a $5 million house she shares with her entertainment attorney husband, Doug Emhoff, in Kenter Canyon.
She speaks with affection about growing up the child of an Indian mother and Jamaican father in the Bay Area, and about joining Alpha Kappa Alpha, a Black sorority, while enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
By comparison, L.A. feels like a blank space on the map of her life. Harris rarely brings it up during campaign appearances. Her presence comes as a revelation to many fellow Brentwood residents.
While out for a walk on a street lined with cliff-hugging houses and mansions hidden by hedges, Teri Wells and Zoe Green broke into giddy laughter when told Harris lives nearby.
"Wow, she does?" said Wells, a retired 61-year-old who lives "two canyons over" from Harris. "You don't really think of her as being 'L.A.' It doesn't fit her."