Minneapolis NRP Neighborhoods Conference
Saturday, May 17, 2003

“Good Neighbors Building Better Neighborhoods”

Keynote: Greg Nelson, General Manager of Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment

In explaining why he wanted to be the general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, Greg said, "I've always believed that a person's value is measured by what they give back to society."


Greg started working for Joel Wachs on the councilman's first day in 1971. As the last one hired onto the staff, he started at the bottom. He said that eventually becoming the Chief of Staff wasn't complicated, "I just kept volunteering to do everything that nobody else wanted to do."


Greg is a "Valley dude." He grew up in North Hollywood at the "intersection" of Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, and Studio City. He attended at Riverside Drive Elementary School, Walter Reed and Robert A. Milliken Junior High Schools, Grant High School, Valley College, and San Fernando Valley State College (since renamed Cal State Northridge). He earned a B.A. by specializing in urban affairs. "It was during my early college years that I knew that I would be dedicating my life to doing something meaningful for my city," he said.


From 1967 to 1970 he served in the U.S. Army, including one year in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division during the height of the war. He was awarded the Bronze Star, and completed his military duty as a Staff Sergeant. Reflecting on the experience, he said, "It made every problem that I faced seem minor in comparison. Now I don't have problems. I only have challenges."


While working for Councilman Wachs he composed City Charter amendments that created the new Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the citywide system of neighborhood councils; required that city ballot measures be explained in simplified language in a special ballot pamphlet that is sent to all voters; initiated a landmark re-engineering of the city's antiquated purchasing system; and made it easier for the city to contract for services.


He played a lead role in forcing the city to restructure its offer to subsidize construction of the Staples Center arena, thereby saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and setting a national precedent. "We were confident that, despite popular misperceptions, the city could have a showcase sports arena and supporting developments without the taxpayers' money," he said. "And in the end we were proven correct."


He established and personally staffed an emergency response center in the Santa Monica Mountains during the devastating floods and mudslides in 1978. As a result of the experience, the City created the Emergency Operations Center and the Emergency Operations Organization shortly afterwards.


And he served as the only city council aide on the Ad Hoc Committee on the Energy Crisis, comprised of leaders from business, labor, and government, that met everyday during the OPEC oil embargo to develop an emergency energy conservation plan. Shortly thereafter, served again as the only city council aide on the Ad Hoc Committee on Water Conservation that developed a similar plan to take the city through the devastating drought.


Greg was appointed by Mayor James K. Hahn as the interim general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment on September 25, 2001, and was confirmed by the City Council as the permanent general manager on October 2, 2001.