Remembering George Wolfberg, a Civic Leader for the Ages

Pacific Palisades Community Council Chair Emeritus passes away

By Sam Catanzaro

George Wolfberg, Pacific Palisades Community Council (PPCC) Chair Emeritus and an individual who dedicated a lifetime to public service, passed away Wednesday at the age of 81 after a long illness at his home in Santa Monica Canyon.

“It is a tremendous loss to his family, to Pacific Palisades and to all of Los Angeles,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin. “As a civic leader, an environmentalist, an athlete, and as patriarch to a wonderful family, George’s accomplishments are legion and his legacy immense.”

George Sander Wolfberg, born April 22, 1938, was born and lived his entire life in Los Angeles. He was a high school competitive athlete at Los Angeles High and received a B.S. in Political Science from the University of California Los Angeles and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Southern California.

Wolfberg’s entire career was dedicated to the City of Los Angeles. His first job for the City was as a City public pool lifeguard during high school and college. At his retirement, he was the Chief Administrative Analyst (the highest non-appointed position) in the City Administrative Office. He was well known by decades of mayors and city council members.

“In City Hall, George was a rock of integrity and a font of knowledge which I and others who cared about our city always relied upon,” said Joel Wachs, a college roommate of Wolfberg’s and a longtime City Councilmember.

Wolfberg considered one of his career highlights to be oversight of Los Angeles’ successful divestment from South Africa under apartheid, for which Nelson Mandela came to Los Angeles to specifically thank the City.

Other significant accomplishments include preparing the City of Los Angeles’ bid to win the 1984 Olympics, contributing hundreds of volunteer hours to make that event a success and securing many infrastructure upgrades in the City in preparation. In addition, he created women’s Olympic cycling event by writing it into the City’s bid that the City would present it as an exhibition sport.

“As a civic leader, an environmentalist, an athlete, and as patriarch to a wonderful family, George’s accomplishments are legion and his legacy immense.”

Councilmember Mike Bonin

In 1992 Wolfberg was appointed by the City as commissioner of the Watts Friendship Sports League following the 1992 riots, the first youth sports league sponsored by the City. An example of his forward-thinking is the fact that he noticed children showing up to play sports who had not had breakfast that day and possibly not eaten dinner the night before. He created a program to serve free breakfast to all of the participants before sports started on the weekends.

After retiring, City officials requested him on the City Charter Commission, creating the new Charter adopted in 2000. The new Charter enacted the creation of a citywide system of Neighborhood Councils with the goal of promoting public participation in City governance and the decision-making process to create a government more responsive to local needs. Wolfberg served on the boards of both the PPCC (16 years) and the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association (20 years).

He led the communities where he lived with improvements in infrastructure and guiding land use issues, preserving public parklands, creating new systems to support those living without homes and improvements in safety and sustainability. He served on the Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee and advocated for greater public access including a bridge over PCH to link the bike path to the park for pedestrians and cyclists.

“George was the epitome of responsible leadership and dedicated service to his beloved Santa Monica Canyon and the entire Palisades community,” PPCC said. “George established good relationships with elected officials, managers and workers in many jurisdictions and agencies. They seemed to welcome his calls, requests and inputs on behalf of our community. Often, a call from George would generate quick results.”

“George was the epitome of responsible leadership and dedicated service to his beloved Santa Monica Canyon and the entire Palisades community.”

Pacific Palisades Community Council

In their remembrance of Wolfberg, the PPCC noted one of the hallmarks of his leadership style was an ability to make everyone feel that they could speak and would be heard. When he received the Citizen of the Year award, George characteristically remarked: “The roulette wheel stopped on my number . . . I just happened to be lucky, it could have been probably half the people in this room.” One of his guiding principles was summed up in his favorite quote: “You can quit when you die. Never, ever give up.”

Wolfberg advocated to the City for years on the bad health grades at Will Rodgers State Beach and finally got a bad sewage pipe replaced and got the city to reroute sewage from the beach directly to the sewage treatment plant.

“I am deeply indebted to him for his leadership and his service — and for the manner in which he led and served. From project after project, issue after issue, George led and served with fierce determination, great warmth, big goals, and a smart and specific vision to achieve those goals. He has been friend, mentor and inspiration to more people than we can count,” Bonin said.

He was a driving force in AYSO Region 69, serving in various positions including Registrar and Board Member for 45 years. He became a nationally ranked referee who was still refereeing soccer games for teenagers at the time of his 80th birthday.

In addition, Wolfberg worked with Santa Monica Canyon and Rustic Canyon residents to restore the historic Uplifters Ranch Eucalyptus grove and hand-watered new trees there to nurture them for many years.

“George’s vast knowledge, un-flagging enthusiasm, optimism, tenacity, humility, guidance and friendship will be sorely missed by all who had the privilege of working with and knowing him,” PPCC said.

George is survived by his wife Diane, his children and his many extended family members.

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