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Steven Weinberg talks about his road to city government, time as a planning commissioner and city councilman
By Andrea Swayne
Steven Weinberg had no interest in city government until a proposed move by the City Council in 2002 irked him into action.
“After the election that year the City Council tried to take the name off of the Harry Otsubo Community Gardens and make it something generic,” Weinberg said. “I had gotten to know Harry real well and a bunch of other gardeners and I thought a change was totally inappropriate. I told the council if they really wanted to take the name off, the least they could do would be to wait until the guy is no longer with us. But even that thought was unacceptable to me.”
A short time later, he met City Manager Doug Chotkevys at the garden and the idea to run for office was sparked.
“We got to talking about the garden name and he said, “Steven, if you don’t like it why don’t you apply to be on the Planning Commission,’” Weinberg said. “My response was something like, ‘No … way!’ But he convinced me to apply. I interviewed for the position and lo and behold, I got a call from then-Mayor Bill Ossenmacher saying I was in.”
The garden’s name was preserved.
Fast forward a few years. On Oct. 25, 2010, City Council replaced their usual closed session before the regular meeting with a field trip to the garden and its adjacent park gazebo, to rededicate it and recognize its namesake, Harry Otsubo, for his contributions to the community of Dana Point. Weinberg, as mayor for 2010, did the honors, unveiling two plaques installed at the park gazebo in honor of Otsubo.
From a four-year stint as a planning commissioner to eight as city councilman—including a second term as mayor in 2013—Weinberg has spent a total of 12 years serving the residents of Dana Point. Tuesday’s city council meeting marked his last day as a councilman, terming out after serving two consecutive four-year terms.
During his final meeting as 2014 mayor pro tem, Weinberg chose his words carefully, calling it his last time “for a while” addressing the public as a city official.
Later, when asked if that meant he would be running again after waiting the two years required after terming out, he said only that he is “keeping his options open.”
COMMISSIONER TO COUNCILMAN
While on the Planning Commission, Weinberg was also a member of the Town Center Subcommittee, formed to put together a plan for revitalization of the downtown area.
During his third year on the commission, Chotkevys made another suggestion to Weinberg—running for City Council.
“I gave him roughly the same response that time too,” Weinberg said. “I told him I wouldn’t run but that I would support Russ Chilton, who was just ending his first term on the council. When Russ decided not to run in 2006, I threw my hat in the ring.”
Weinberg had major back surgery in August of that year and wasn’t able to start campaigning until October.
“It was pretty late in the season but I got lucky and came in second,” he said. “Wanting to see the Town Center Plan come to fruition was one of my main reasons for running.”
There were three seats open that year. He took his place on the council along with Lisa Bartlett, who came in first, and Joel Bishop came in third.
The recession hit soon after, city revenue decreased, programs were cut and Dana Point didn’t have the cash to start the Town Center project, he said.
“On one side it was frustrating but not moving ahead made total sense from a fiscal standpoint,” he said. “This city does not want to pull bonds to pay for things; we’d rather pay cash, which is the appropriate thing to do, if you can do it.”
Weinberg’s goal throughout his years on the council has always been to stay fiscally responsible while still serving the citizens and visitors the best in “five-star” services and voting in a manner he felt reflected the wishes of the majority of residents.
“I think we’ve done it in spades and I have no regrets for any decisions or votes I’ve made,” he said. “I tried to not take myself too seriously but to be very serious about city business at the same time. It’s been a blast. We got a lot of good things done. We had no food fights on the dais and it has all been very civil and respectful. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
THE ROAD TO DANA POINT
Weinberg grew up in California’s central valley in a town called Fowler, just south of Fresno.
After graduating from high school, he served in the Coast Guard for four years, mainly in Asia and the North Atlantic. He was trained as an electrical technician and came out an E-6, or Petty Officer First Class.
“I am one of these people you might call a late bloomer,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for college after high school. I didn’t have the grades, mainly because I hadn’t really applied myself.
After returning from the Coast Guard, he was ready and went to college, first at Sacramento City College, then later transferring to UC Davis where he graduated as an electrical engineer.
He married his wife Carole during his last year of college and together they made many moves around the country as his career led him.
From a college job at the then new school of medicine in Davis’ school of physiology he was recruited by Litton in Minneapolis, Minn. to work in their applied science division adapting technologies originally created for germ warfare to civilian uses—things like applying reverse osmosis to sewage systems and laminar flow to create ultra-clean environments for patients with compromised immune systems. During his time there, his career took a different path as he was diverted from engineering to technology sales.
From there, they moved to Michigan, New York, Wisconsin as Weinberg worked for a private start-up and then later for General Electric in their medical ventures group.
By that time the Weinbergs had welcomed the arrival of three daughters to the family, each born in a different state.
They moved next to Chicago, when he held jobs at Digital Equipment Corp. in sales and United Stationers, setting up a computer distribution company called Micro United.
In 1987, another computer distribution company, Ingram Micro, brought Weinberg back to California to set up their high-end tech products division.
Now living in Dana Point, Weinberg found out about a new company starting up in Fountain Valley.
“A friend called me up and told me about two Chinese guys setting up a company, Kingston Technology and I decided to check it out,” Weinberg said. “They hired me as a vice president of sales. It was a nice ride, and very profitable.”
When Weinberg started there, Kingston was an approximately $8 million company and by the time he retired, six years later, it had grown to $1.2 billion, he said.
Since retiring, he has done some consulting work for friends in computer industry sales and marketing, and in 1995 returned to Kingston for a one-year consulting job, until his focus turned to city government after the Harry Otsubo Community Garden issue “got his goat” in 2002.
With the Town Center/Lantern District project underway, Weinberg said it is one of the things he’s most proud of being involved with as a commissioner and councilman.
“It’s gratifying to see that we are now getting developers coming to town that actually want to build something,” he said. “Another thing I’m proud of is how my fellow council members and I have left the city more fiscally sound than we found it—providing more services and events than when we started.”
Another highlight, he said, was the creation of the Dana Point Grand Prix of Cycling, an event that has become nationally recognized as one of the premier cycling events in the country.
“About nine years ago I was at (co-founder) Roger Worthington’s house for an event and noticed a flagpole with some interesting flags on it that he said were for his bicycle racing team,” Weinberg said. “Roger told me he had held a Grand Prix in San Clemente and asked me why Dana Point wouldn’t let him have it here. I told him I had no idea but that I would make it happen. Truth be told, I had no idea how to make it happen, but about six months, later we held our first Grand Prix in Dana Point.”
Worthington and Weinberg formed the Dana Point Cycling Foundation in 2005 as a nonprofit to run the event and handle sponsorships. The first event was held in 2006.
“I’m proud of it because I think it has shown the public—especially the youth—that cycling can be fun, healthy and competitive,” he said. “I am most proud of the kids’ event. It is a real hoot to watch the 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds race their few hundred feet, peddling, using their feet or their parents pushing them. For most it’s their first experience with competitive cycling as they all get medals at the finish line. But really, all the age groups are a delight to watch.”
He is also pleased to have kept women’s racing in the program—a division cut by many other events—because, he said, it’s important to show girls and women they have a place in competitive cycling.
“Besides the race and the racers, it’s also gratifying to see first-time fans stand at the corners, mesmerized by how fast the cyclists are going, how close they are together and feeling the wind coming off the pack,” Weinberg said. “As Roger says, ‘it’s like NASCAR on two wheels.’”
Weinberg is happy to be getting more free time that will allow him to spend more time with family.
“I am going to play with my grandkids, take time with my daughters and their spouses and spend more time with my wife,” Weinberg said. “The latter being most important—you don’t make it 45-plus years together by not balancing your time between who and what is important to you.”
As a council member, a large amount of time is spent serving on other commissions, such as his post as the city’s representative to the Orange County Fire Authority, which often required his attention four days a week.
Time is also a reason, he said, he has no desire to run for higher office.
He now plans to devote more time to his favorite hobby, bicycling twice a week to the tune of 40 miles total, and continuing his work with the Cycling Foundation and the Grand Prix.
The twice-weekly rides won’t quite be the same, he said, recently losing his cycling buddy of 10 years, Mickey Telson, to cancer.
“We pushed each other,” said Weinberg. “It always seemed like one or the other of us would have rather been reading the paper and having a cup a coffee. But either one of us would send a text saying, ‘9:30 at the Harbor?’ and then we couldn’t say ‘no’ and off we’d go.”
Cycling with Telson checked off a lot of things on his list of what made for an ideal hobby, providing fun, exercise and social time, all rolled into one.
“Two-thirds of the way we’d stop at a coffee shop somewhere, then on to someplace else for lunch, while putting in our 20 miles,” he said. “I will just have to push myself now, although I have been thinking about maybe joining a bike club in Irvine. It’s a schlep, but it’s the closest club that rides during the week—at my level anyway.”
Weinberg also intends to return to where his interest in city government started—working his plot at the community garden.
Another important obligation, he said, is churning out six to eight pints a week of his homemade hot sauce to friends.
“I make a mean habanero hot sauce that has become popular among my friends,” he said. “They count on me for about a pint a week and I doubt they’ll ever let me off the hook.”
We tried to talk Weinberg into sharing the recipe but he refused to divulge his secrets.
“Let the people bug me if they want some,” he said.