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Thank you, Gail Goldberg, City of LA Planning Director

Gail Goldberg brings an inspiring story – a stay-at-home mom who found herself a widow at 40 who went back to school, and became a brand-new assistant planner in the San Diego planning department at age 46. Remarkably, she became the city’s planning director only 13 years later – and the planning director in Los Angeles a few years after that.

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I met Gail Goldberg her first week on the job in Los Angeles as the new city planning director. As a media person, I just walked right up to her and welcomed her... and she responded in the fashion she has become known for, kind, considerate and motherly...:-)

It was with a sad heart that I heard today that Gail has resigned, but Bill Fulton has written a wonderful tribute to this woman of heart and talent. I pass a portion of it along to you so that you can appreciate who has made a difference in our city, and can support the next phase of the planning she has put into place...whatever that will be in the coming, very changed economic environment facing us.

In San Diego, Gail was the primary architect of the "City of Villages" concept – perhaps the quintessential node-oriented California planning concept, which called for new growth to be focused on existing neighborhoods in a village-like way. City of Villages emerged from an innovative public outreach process for which Gail became well-known, through which the city went to extraordinary lengths not just to get people out to meetings (like giving away television sets) but also to explain the true nature of the choices facing the City and its neighborhoods.

Implementing City of Villages has proven to be an overwhelming task, as the city struggles both to update all of its community plans during dark budget times, but still hasn’t solved an apparently endless multibillion-dollar infrastructure deficit, without which the City of Villages plan probably can’t win the widespread political support required for implementation.

Los Angeles proved an even tougher nut to crack. L.A. was already far down the infill road when Gail arrived; half of the city’s new housing units were already being built on commercial strips, and new transit stops were popping up all over town. From current planning to GIS to advance planning, she had to pull the department out of the dark ages. Community plans – the bread-and-butter of advance planning – were old and vague and provided almost no guidance. She quickly turned things around, getting more money from Villaraigosa when nobody but public safety could do so, putting community plan updates on a rigorous schedule – and, perhaps most important, turning the department into a place where talented young planners actually aspired to work.

Through it all, Gail has always had a kind of homespun, motherly quality that endeared her to everybody. She often likened planning a city to planning a dinner party. "You have to make sure that everybody brings something different, and not everybody brings the same appetizer." When she moved to L.A., she spent every Saturday touring a neighborhood with one of her enthusiastic young planners, almost as if she was attending their dance recitals.

And yet Gail was always tough enough to survive the rough-and-tumble politics of big cities, and in retrospect it’s clear that she was on the leading edge of a whole generation of outstanding big-city planning directors who are women. Socialite Amanda Burden in New York and funny-but-gritty Harriet Tregoning in Washington, D.C., have far different styles – but their mayors would have been less likely to appoint them if it hadn’t been for Gail.

Thank you, Gail Goldberg, for making two of California’s great cities better. And even though implementing your dreams is tough now, in the long run all your hard work will pay off.

Bill Fulton California Planning and Development Report

Thank you, Gail -- you and your team have made our lives, and our communities in Southern California better. I hope we can continue your work.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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