The L.A. Recreation and Park Board commissioners made it official today: the park nearing completion in Potrero Canyon, below the Palisades Recreation Center, will be called George Wolfberg Park at Potrero Canyon.
The 46-acre passive recreation park, which stretches from Frontera Street to Pacific Coast Highway, has been under construction since 1989.
From 1964 to 1975, the City purchased properties along the canyon rim, with the goal of stabilizing the canyon and extending the Rec Center property. As more and more residential properties slid into the canyon, the City purchased an additional 22 lots along the canyon rim. Eventually, once the canyon was filled with imported dirt, properties were sold to developers and residents. The money from these sales was placed in a protected Potrero Canyon fund to be used to complete the park.
George Wolfberg was appointed chair of the Potrero Canyon Community Advisory Committee in 2004, and he worked tirelessly with the City and the community to finalize the plans and ensure that the park would one day serve the public.
Last August, the grading phrase of the park was finished, and the landscaping will go out for bid at the end of February.
Wolfberg, 81, died of cancer last February. As editor of the Palisadian-Post for 20 years, Bill Bruns was able to observe and appreciate George’s activism and leadership close-up. In an obituary that he wrote for a local news blog, Bruns noted that “George Sander Wolfberg was the most important and wide-ranging leader in Pacific Palisades the past 25 years.”
Wolfberg graduated from UCLA in 1961 with a degree in political science and later earned a master’s degree in public administration from USC in 1971. He worked for the City of Los Angeles his entire career, retiring in 1996 as Chief Administrative Analyst in the City Administrative Office.
In the 1960s, Wolfberg and his wife Diane volunteered with Fair Housing, doing sting operations on racist landlords by approaching them with housing applications after the landlords had unlawfully turned down applications by persons of color.
Wolfberg oversaw the City’s selective contracting policy to bring pressure upon South Africa to end apartheid, for which Nelson Mandela came to Los Angeles to specifically give thanks.
Wolfberg also helped prepare the City’s successful bid to host the 1984 Olympics. He was responsible for the birth of women’s Olympic cycling, because he ensured that Los Angeles and the IOOC would hold the women’s road race as an exhibition sport. The next Olympics (2021) will feature 11 cycling events for women.
Following the 1992 riots, Wolfberg was appointed by the City as commissioner of the Watts Friendship Sports League. He served for 10 years and raised over $100,000 in funding. It was the first youth sports league sponsored by the City.
After moving to Pacific Palisades in 1972, George became active with the 20-year No Oil campaign, which eventually defeated efforts by Occidental to build oil rigs along PCH, just north of Potrero Canyon.
He was named Citizen of the Year in 2011 and was serving his fourth term as president of the Pacific Palisades Community Council in 2019 when his cancer came back.
Councilman Mike Bonin, who had suggested naming Potrero Park in Wolfberg’s honor, spoke at the Rec and Park virtual meeting today. “George had a long career with the City, and the naming is supported by the community,” Bonin said, noting that Wolfberg fit the City’s criteria perfectly for having a park named after him. “He made exceptional contributions and was committed to having more access for all.
“George would push hard in a gentle way,” Bonin said. “He always made you feel good when you worked with him. Now generations of Palisadians and Angelinos will also know about George.”
“He was a great friend,” said Commissioner Joe Halper, who noted that this project has taken more than 30 years to complete and that it was only through people like Wolfberg and fellow residents David Card, Rob Weber, Gil Dembo and Robert Harder that it has reached this stage.
Halper also thanked the Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Michael Shull for “pushing this through.”
“Our next step in making this a regional park is adding a pedestrian bridge between the park and Will Rogers State Beach (over Pacific Coast Highway) and a hiking trail to Temescal Canyon,” Halper said.
Commissioner Nicole Chase noted that sometimes history is lost and hoped that a plaque stating Wolfberg’s accomplishments would be placed at the park entrance (off Frontera) so that visitors will know the vital role that he played.
Wolfberg’s three children, David, Anya and Michael, also spoke today.
“He spent hundreds if not thousands of hours dedicated to L.A.” Michael said, “He was dedicated to his wife, his children and the residents of L.A. It is important to acknowledge that he was dedicated to helping his fellow citizens.”
“I have been hearing about this project [Potrero] for more than 30 years at the dinner table,” Anya said, noting that her father’s first job was as a lifeguard for the City. “He had a sense of duty and served as a volunteer or public servant his entire life.”
“He was always gracious,” David said. “On his behalf we’re grateful for bestowing such an honor to such a humble person.”