ForeverMissed
Stories

Kindness

Shared by Phyllis Currie on February 20, 2020
George was kind to others in unexpected ways. For me, I’ll never forget the time he gave me a swimming lesson at his home. 
As an analyst in the CAO, I knew GW as one of the ‘Chiefs’ and he was always friendly and easy to talk to. I’m not sure how wehappen to get on the topic of swimming, but I told him I was afraid of deep water. He set a date for me to come to his house and he spent a couple of hours explaining the mechanics of swimming and showed me I could jump in the deep end of the pool and survive.
The memory of his  kindness and willingness to help will be with me always.

Raphael Sonenshein - Remembering George Wolfberg (Charter Commission)

Shared by Anya McCann on February 13, 2020
Remembering George Wolfberg
Our paths crossed for the first time in a moment of crisis for the City of Los Angeles.  With the city on the verge of breaking apart, with discontent in all corners and secession movements on the rise, city leaders determined that a bold reform of the city charter would help create a more responsive and effective city government.  The mayor and the city council were in conflict with each other about how to accomplish this goal, and ultimately two competing charter reform commissions were created: one appointed (the council’s), and one elected (the mayor’s).  By 1997, both commissions had been formed and got under way in a two-year process.
I was selected to head the staff of the appointed commission in early 1997.  As a professor of political science and student of Los Angeles government, I quickly discovered that I still had a lot to learn about the inside ways of city hall.  Rich Hart in the CAO’s office suggested that I reach out to a senior CAO official who was retiring named George Wolfberg.  After a distinguished career in city leadership, George had plans to travel with his wife Diane and to enjoy the good life.  
When we sat down he had the relaxed mien of someone who was ready to leave government behind and pursue his many other interests.  I told him that the immense task ahead was critical to the city’s future and that I needed him to be a guide and a leader for our growing and young staff.  George agreed to come on board as senior policy and research director, as long as he and Diane could take a planned vacation I believe in September.  I immediately agreed, and said we would always work around his post-retirement schedule.  
We had rough and ready offices on the first floor of the Department of Water and Power.  Our staff leadership, including our distinguished chair George Kieffer, George, deputy director and chief counsel Mary Strobel, and communications director Julie Benson were to be together for the next two years.  
George was a fount of wisdom about the workings of city hall, as well as a guide to city commission operations.  He knew which buttons to push to get things done at city hall, which for a temporary commission with often shaky political support, was essential.  At his urging, I stayed close to the legendary Chief Legislative Analyst, Ron Deaton, who never failed to support our commission.  George helped me keep in touch with his former boss, CAO Keith Comrie, who became another strong supporter. Those were the two top staff members at city hall.
George was an outstanding researcher ad policy thinker, and helped us build and maintain our credibility at city hall and in the community as a solid, reliable source of information about the issues of city governance.  He also embodied the strength and integrity of the permanent city government, the appointed and civil service members who keep the lights on, and ensure the delivery of city services.  There was much debate during charter reform about the role of the CAO’s office, and there were calls to restrict the office’s independence.  We successfully resisted that pressure, and preserved the CAO.  In addition to all the good government arguments for that position, we had on our staff a stellar symbol of that office in George Wolfberg.  Because of George, that office was never an abstraction to us, but a reality.
George was always a fount of good advice, but I think my favorite was delivered on a day when I truly needed a boost.  We had a wonderful commission, and our staff was almost always in sync with them.  But in one case, I made what I thought was a terrific staff recommendation, and the commissioners turned it down flat.  I was dejected.  George conveyed to me an essential aspect of the staff role in government when he said, “Raphe, we made the best recommendation.  The commission made the best decision.”  It has been more than 20 years, and I have worked with numerous charter reform commissions since then, and I have never forgotten that essential insight.  I sometimes quote it to young people navigating their staff role in the offices of elected officials and I never fail to tell it to charter commissioners.
In addition to the generosity of spirit that George brought to his work, and the exceptional career he pursued at the CAO’s office, George had many interests outside of city hall.  I enjoyed hearing about his outdoor activities, his love of biking, and his devotion to his family and community.  When we were exploring the creation of a pathbreaking neighborhood council system, George invited me to attend a meeting of the community organization he valued in Pacific Palisades.  We spent a delightful and illuminating afternoon talking about neighborhood participation, an experience that helped inform the system we eventually created.
George was with us at the rocky beginning, and when we downsized near the end to our key staff, and when George Kieffer and elected commission chair Erwin Chemerinsky negotiated a unified charter, and when the city council placed it on the ballot, and when the voters passed it with more than 60% of the vote in 1999, the first comprehensive charter reform of LA city government in 75 years, George was there to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  
I will miss George, and our conversations about city hall, about community life, about family, and about just about everything.  It was an honor to work with him and a pleasure to know him.
Raphael Sonenshein, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs: Unleashing the Power of Public Participation, February 13, 2020

Contentious Sidewalks

Shared by Emile Levisetti on February 6, 2020
I originally met George about 7-8 years ago. We both attended one of the first meetings at the Canyon School about a possible sidewalk. As most in the Canyon know this became a somewhat contentious issue. But George never really got ruffled. He was a great source of advice and information for the entire community about how the city worked. He was level headed and a steady hand at times when passions were running high. More than anything he kept his trademark smile and wry sense of humor about the whole thing. What a relief he was.

My experience with George is alas limited to the SMCCA Board and community activism, it was not as deep as many here will be. I wish it bad been. He was a tremendous motivator and organizer. It was the first time I witnessed community politics and activism.  George worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of our neighborhood for all. His input, experience, camaraderie, willingness, and presence will be sorely missed. I will miss his smile, and gentle encouragement.

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