By Jorge Casuso
January 8 – City Council member Herb Katz
– whose three decades of service on numerous boards
and commissions and 16 years on the City Council made him
the consummate public servant – died Wednesday. Services
will be held Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Monica’s
Katz, who was elected to a fifth four-year council term two
months ago, died peacefully with family and close friends
by his side after a long battle with cancer that failed to
keep him from the dais. He was 78.
A partner and owner of RTK Architects, Inc., Katz not only
left his mark on City policies – he helped create the
Third Street Promenade and was a driving force behind Santa
Monica’s restrictive sign ordinance – he also
left behind several large buildings.
They include the YMCA Downtown and two prominent mixed-use
projects on the southern end of Main Street and in the heart
On Wednesday afternoon, the Mayor and City Council issued
a short statement announcing Katz’s death
“It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the loss of
Herb Katz, one of Santa Monica’s great leaders and friends,”
the statement read. “Herb distinguished himself in his
personal, professional and public life. He will be greatly
Council colleagues from both sides of the political spectrum
called Katz a model public servant who managed to find time
to volunteer with a dozen local non-profit and government
“He was a real role model of somebody who continued
to excel in his community and provided community service,”
said Council member Pam O’Connor, who bucked her political
faction to make Katz mayor. “He did it with a glimmer
in his eye and good humor.”
“The thing I think about most is how spirited he was,”
said Mayor Ken Genser, who like O’Connor is a member
of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), a group
Katz long opposed.
“Throughout the length of his illness, he always thought,
‘I’m going to get through this’ and moved
full speed ahead,” said Genser, who has served 20 years
on the council, 12 of them with Katz.
“He really lived life fully. He had all this energy,
this sort of life force.”
“Herb knew he was sick, knew he had cancer, but he
never let it defeat him,” said Council member Bob Holbrook,
a political ally of Katz who has served 18 years on the council.
“He looked forward to being mayor again. He looked ahead
“I view my colleagues as family, and I feel I’ve
just lost a member of my family,” Holbrook said.
Katz, who served two terms on the council from 1984 to 1992
and another two terms between 2000 and 2008 before his reelection
in November, finally got his chance to fill the City’s
top post during 2008.
A longtime opponent of SMRR, the powerful tenants group that
has controlled City Hall for three decades, Katz had watched
as a long line of council colleagues assumed the mostly ceremonial
But in recent years, as the council members’ positions
on key issues seemed to coalesce, Katz began to be viewed
as more middle of the road. When he ran for a fifth term in
November, SMRR did not field a candidate for his seat.
As mayor, Katz brought his earthy sense of humor and a curmudgeon’s impatience
with nonsense to the mostly ceremonial post.
Shortly before his death, he nominated a candidate who had
recently died to a board. When the mistake was pointed out,
Katz retorted, “Good, that way he won’t give us
“He had a curmudgeonly as well as a joyful side,”
said Council member Pam O’Connor, who sat next to Katz
during his one-year term as mayor. “He took his job
seriously and had a light touch.”
Council members who often disagreed with Katz valued his
candor and no-nonsense approach.
“He was a very comfortable colleague,” Genser
said. “He had an ability to be straight forward. We
could tell each other where to go and not take it personally.”
Council member Bloom recalled how his relationship with Katz
changed from one of “rivals who each thought the other
was the devil incarnate” to one of collegiality and
“We grew closer, and we grew to know and respect one
another,” Bloom said. “I was able to see another
side of Herb.
“He was an extremely warm and sensitive person and
very intelligent very knowledgeable about a variety of subjects,”
Bloom said. “He never bragged about his accomplishments.”
Before his first successful bid for a council seat in 1984,
Katz served on three Santa Monica boards and commissions --
the Architectural Review Board, the Pier Restoration Corporation
and the Planning Commission.
Between stints on the council, Katz served on the Bayside
District Board, which runs that Downtown and oversees the
thriving outdoor shopping strip Katz helped create.
Tom Larmore, a business leader and land use attorney, remembers
Katz for his “complete unflagging optimism and good
“He was always up never down,” said Larmore,
a friend for 30 years. “He never carried grudges against
anyone. He was clearly motivated by doing the right thing
for the public interest.”
As a civic leader, Katz was a champion of special education.
Both of his sons became blind and both died of cancer, a disease
that also claimed his first wife Ilona, who was a long-time
trustee at Santa Monica College.
Katz would play hide and seek with his blind sons, standing
in plain sight only to realize they always found him by the
sound of his breathing, Holbrook said. When he realized that,
he tried holding his breath.
At a council meeting last year, Katz choked up when he stood
up for special education parents who accused the School District
of intimidation by forcing them to sign confidentiality agreements.
“Herb has done so much for the children of this community,”
said Kim Karie, a consultant who is also an education activist.
“The city has lost an incredible public servant.”
Katz is survived by his wife Brenda, his daughter Dana and a
sister in New York.