Santa Monica City Councilman Herb Katz passed away Wednesday, January 7th, after a longtime battle with cancer. He was 78.
He died peacefully and with close friends and family by his side, said Kate Vernez, assistant to the Santa Monica city manager for community relations.
A heavily attended public memorial service was held for Katz Monday, January 12th, at St. Monica Catholic Church, followed by a graveside burial service at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.
Katz, who lived in Sunset Park, had for over three decades been involved in public service in Santa Monica, most recently serving as mayor of the city last year.
He was first elected to the City Council in 1984 after serving as chair of the Planning Commission from 1977 to 1982. Katz was mayor pro tem from 1986 to 1988.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl remembers vividly when Katz first ran for City Council because Rosendahl had him as a guest on his cable television show called Local Talk. This was before Rosendahl got into politics.
“He went from a friend of mine to a colleague of mine,” Rosendahl noted.
Rosendahl was so impressed by Katz and his late wife Ilona — who together had two special-needs sons that have also passed away — that he continued to have Katz on the air.
“He’s a true brother of mine,” Rosendahl said of Katz. “Our relationship transcends politics. That’s the kind of guy he was. He was a straight shooter. He had a great sense of humor and I’m sure he did up to the very moment that he passed.
“He had integrity and I loved him. He was a very close friend. He listened; he cared. But what I loved most about him was his appreciation of all of us being connected.”
In 1992, Katz took an eight-year hiatus from the City Council, during which he was chair of the Bayside District — from 1993 to 2000.
“He was on the board that hired me when I came to Bayside,” said Bayside’s executive director Kathleen Rawson. “I’ve known him for a long time. And he loved downtown Santa Monica and took great pride in the work he and others did to establish the Third Street Promenade.
“He talked about it with a great deal of admiration; he was proud of it.
“I think the community will have a very empty space for a long time because of Herb’s passing. He was a huge presence — such a unique individual who never minced words. He was just always out there with his opinions and thoughts. He was just an overall great guy. I’m going to miss him.”
Katz decided to run again for City Council in 2000 and was reelected. He had served on the council ever since and was mayor pro tem in 2007 and mayor last year.
He was a registered architect in 17 states and served as senior principal with RTK Architects — his own full-service architectural firm — until his passing.
His expertise in design and architecture was particularly significant in his success in planning and public service, noted Vernez.
Katz was also a registered interior designer and a member of various professional organizations, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Planning Association, the American Arbitration Association and the American Society of Landscape Architects.
He was considered a pro in discussions about planning, zoning, design, character and scale.
Katz served as the chair of the Architectural Review Board in 1974, was a member of the Santa Monica Pier Restoration board of directors from 1983 to 1984, and served in a number of roles at Santa Monica College (SMC), including as chair of the Facilities Committee and president of the SMC Foundation.
He was also a current member of the SMC Advisory Board, as well as a member of the Santa Monica YMCA Advisory Board.
Additionally, he had served on Step Up on Second’s board of directors and on its Housing Task Force.
“He’s consistently been a friend to Step Up on Second since the beginning,” said executive director Tod Lipka. “He was a great guy with a very soft heart. He helped us out in a lot of ways.”
Katz even redesigned the social service agency’s Fresh Start store pro bono.
“He always supported us,” Lipka said. “He brought so many assets — the city’s perspective, the architectural perspective, the zoning perspective. He helped out enormously. He really had a lot of good insights that helped us on our path to new housing projects.”
Santa Monica City Councilman Richard Bloom, who had worked on the council with Katz since 2000, knew him before then and is also sad for his loss.
The two were neighbors in Sunset Park and they were on rival neighborhood groups.
“So I got to know Herb across the table,” Bloom said. “We were both very vociferous in our positions and I learned that he and I shared a very stubborn streak about us.”
So when Katz was reelected to the council in 2000, “here we were in a setting where we needed to learn to work together,” Bloom said. “And it really didn’t take too much time. Herb really worked hard. We’ll always appreciate how hard he worked.”
Bloom says that sometimes the councilmen agreed and sometimes they didn’t, but no matter what, Bloom always “had a great deal of respect for Herb and the things he accomplished.”
Bloom said what has stood out to him the most since Katz’s death is “just how much he loved his community and how much the community really loved him back.
“We often don’t fully recognize people’s contributions until they’re gone and I think for the community, many people knew that Herb was ill, but I think his passing was untimely.
“It took a lot of people by surprise, so people have really been coming to terms with just how big a role he played in Santa Monica, his love for Santa Monica, and everything the community has gained from his various pursuits.”