For Livas, preparation meets opportunity

If Gilbert Livas were a numerologist, he'd have a field day with the number "7". In the admittedly charmed existence he finds himself today, the number keeps cropping up.Consider this: he is the 7th child (of 10 children), born on the 7th day of the 7th month and, barring any cataclysmic event, slated to become the 7th city manager of Downey in 2012. And, oh, he hitched his wagon to Downey's star in '07. This was the year he turned down offers to become a city manager in two neighboring cities and instead chose to become the city of Downey's community development director, something not ordinarily done in the scheme of things. But he said he based his decision on a number of factors: 1) having worked in his chosen field of community development for over 20 years in both the private and public sectors, he knew Downey has always been regarded as belonging in the top tier of L.A. county's 88 cities; 2) he knew current city manager Gerald Caton's reputation as "one of the best city managers around" and he couldn't pass up an opportunity to "learn from somebody who's been in the business of governing a city for a long time"; 3) "Besides my wife's family lives here, and I have friends here, so I've always had a connection with Downey." Three years on the job, since last January as assistant city manager of Downey, haven't dimmed his vision, Livas said: "Even while I was serving in Bell Gardens a second time as community development director before I came to Downey in 2007, I knew I was capable of being a city manager somewhere. Now I'm here, doing something that's very fulfilling. I love my work. But this is beyond my wildest dreams, and I must admit that, rough patches and all, it's been quite a beautiful journey." His parents, who still reside in Highland Park, taught him the virtue of hard work. His father was a cabinet maker, his mother a stay-at-home mom. Things didn't come easy. Livas worked his way through high school and college. During these times he wrestled and played "some baseball." In 1988, he graduated from UCLA ("I was the first in the family to go to a university") with a bachelor of arts degree in political science ("I love history") with a major in international relations, with thoughts of entering the foreign service. But he disabused himself of the idea when he figured being assigned to foreign posts might be rough if he was to want to raise a family. He attended the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin on a scholarship, but after about a year, he decided to come home to California "because I was in love." He would of course eventually marry his inamorata, Hedy (who's a legal secretary), but not before he earned a master's in public administration at CSU-Long Beach and working, first, as a private consultant and starting his public service career by working for the city of Bell Gardens initially in the redevelopment area. "She is the foundation of our family," he said of wife Hedy. "My daughter Anissa, who's 16, attends La Serna High School in Whittier (where the family resides), while our son Gabriel, who's 12, goes to St. Mark's in Hacienda Heights." "I'm very, very lucky," he said. "I have good parents, a good family, a good wife, good kids. My family is my real pride and joy. I'm truly blessed." "Believe me, Downey is really a well-run city," Livas said. "We have a great City Council, a great city administration, a great staff to work with. I consider it of critical importance, granted that we first take care of the essentials, safety, public works, community development, community services, and so on, how we treat the public. And thus the importance of customer service. "A lot of what I do now is help the city manager implement the courses of action mandated by Council policy and those naturally arising from day-to-day functional demands. In this, in interacting with Council and the department heads, effective communication is key. I see myself as a conduit between these elements, but ready to offer new thoughts and ideas to further Gerry's programs. Because of my background, I can contribute my inputs while he's still here." "The idea of a Bob's Big Boy or a BJ's or Potro's or hopefully Tesla," Livas continued, "is to enable the city to provide, say, dining and entertainment options downtown. This will bring in tax dollars. It's economic development in action, in that it provides resources such as a strong public safety component. We're fortunate we have a great management staff and we've practiced fiscal responsibility, and thus despite the tight budget environment, we've been able to provide the public with a high level of service. I believe the economy is bottoming out, and we can look forward to a gradual upturn." Livas expressed a predilection for management by objectives, empowering people to be able to get things done. "Give them responsibility," he said, "but also the authority to carry it out and holding them accountable for it. I'm very goal-oriented. What gets measured gets done." Lucky? Blessed? What else can you say about Livas? Have you noticed how many letters there are in "Gilbert"?

********** Published: April 2, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 50