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Former Mayor Bob Holbrook's Journey from Political Neophyte to Elder Statesman


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By Lookout Staff

March 3, 2018 -- From those who ran with Bob Holbrook when he was first elected to public office 35 years ago to those who run Santa Monica City Hall today, all have turned to the former mayor for guidance. We asked some of them to weigh in for this last part of our series celebrating Bob's more than three decades of public service.

Holbrook at hoisting of base isolator at Saint John's Medical Center
Mayor Bob Holbrook (left) at hoisting of base isolator at Saint John's Medical Center in 2006 (From left: Peter Kelly, Con. Henry A. Waxman and Saint John’s Health Center VP of Foundation and Health Center Relations Bob Klein (Glenn Marzano Photography)

James T. Butts Jr. (Mayor of Inglewood, Santa Monica police chief 1991 to 2006)

Bob Holbrook was one of the seven Councilpersons in Santa Monica when I was selected to be the Chief of Police in 1991. Santa Monica was in a time of transition then. What was going to be our position on managing the homeless crisis that divided the City? How were we going to approach the spiraling crime rate? (Santa Monica had a higher crime rate than Inglewood in 1991)

I guess the City Manager, John Jalili hired me in part because I was not a part of the system. I did unconventional things: 1) Ran a drug task force in Palisades Park where we arrested 1,200 people in three months; 2) Asked that the Council stop outdoor feedings; 3) asked for a Curfew do deal with severe gang violence and murders; and finally; 4) for the City Attorney to draft an anti-encampment ordinance to allow equal access to our parks.

This was a pivotal time as it related to public safety in Santa Monica.

1 went over to universal acclaim; 2 with grudgingly unanimous approval; 3 & 4 devolved into the equivalent of civil war. (All 4 were passed by Council resolution.)

This was a lonely time for me. Throughout it all, Bob Holbrook stood with me. Bob Holbrook is a man of character and deep compassion with a strong compass for right always pointed due north. Bob loves Santa Monica.

Agree with him or vehemently disagree with him, you knew where he stood. Where he stood today, absent strong evidence to change his mind...that is where he would stand tomorrow...and the day after...until there were no more days.

In part because of Bob Holbrook, Santa Monica found its Northern Star as it related to Public Safety and crime dropped 64 percent while he was on the City Council.

Martin Luther King once said; "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Nat Trives (Former Mayor and Councilmember 1971-79 and community activist)

Bob and I go back a long way in this community, albeit he is a native Santa Monican and I am not, we are both SAMOHI alums, me in the class of 1952 and Bob in the class of 1959.

Bob and his wife Jean Ann are wonderful people and have traveled all over the United States and abroad. There is a strange bond between us and that has to do with me being an avid UCLA Bruin fan and Bob a die-hard USC Trojan fan. Much of the travel in the states has to do with attending USC football games.

Bob and I are both frequent visitors to Fromin’s Restaurant & Deli here in Santa Monica where we almost always meet up with friends of ours from decades of living in Santa Monica.

Bob is a man who has made his mark as a true public servant in this community and holds the record of having served on our City Council longer than anyone else in the history of our Council/Manager form of government.

That record is for twenty-four years. When you add his eight years of service as a member of the SMMSD Board of Education you have to say WOW thirty-two years of service as an elected official in our community!

There are a couple more things that come to mind:

[1] Bob should be recognized for his hard work on getting our Veteran’s Memorial in Woodlawn Cemetery which has now become a center piece for our Memorial Day celebrations there every year, and

[2] He also deserves another star in his crown for his unwavering support for the creation of the Santa Monica History Museum, under the leadership of Bob and Louise Gabriel.

Finally, I believe he is a man who dearly loves Santa Monica and has certainly done his part to help make this one of America’s finest places to call home.

Nancy Greenstein (Member of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees 2002 to present and co-chair emeritus of Santa Monica for Renters' Rights)

Bob has a favorite college that has marginal success with athletic teams. He is a loyal fan and we often made a point of disagreeing on what the outcome of games should be, and, as fans of that college would do, rub it in when my team lost. He and Jean Ann attended local and many away games.

One time when his team was playing at my school, UCLA, tickets were not available for this particular basketball game. He came to me hoping I would find tickets for him. He did try charm. However, ultimately, I decided to see what I could do because I like Bob in spite of this unfortunate choice of teams.

Thinking that I likely would be unsuccessful, I checked in with a unit at UCLA anyway, explaining that an “important government” official in Santa Monica wanted to buy tickets for the game. Bob and Jean Ann, in all their regalia, found themselves sitting with UCLA administrators and VIPS in the stands at Pauley Pavilion.

According to Bob they all were wondering about this couple and what had gone wrong to enable them to be in these seats.

Dominick Bei ( Santa Monica Firefighter, vice president Local 1109 Union)

I can remember my first sit down with Santa Monica city council member Bob Holbrook. It was my first visit to Fromin's Restaurant, aka Bob's political coliseum.

A Santa Monica Fire Department new hire, with only two years on the job, I had just begun to learn about the Santa Monica brand of politics through my union work. To be honest, this may have been my second meeting, as my first was chaperoned by the legendary Paul Radomski, who as the political chairman of our union, knew and met Bob about as regularly as a Fromin's cash register.

Bob Holbrook at 2011 National Night Out

On my first meeting alone with Bob, we sat over breakfast for about two hours, which I'd learn in Bob's standards was a quickie. As friends of Bob's and the occasional police officer stopped to say hello, I easily dismantled the half skirt steak and eggs, as Bob savored his more health conscious breakfast; it was as if he knew we were there for the long haul, whereas I must have thought I'd be in and out for a quick meeting.

That notion was quickly discarded once Bob found out I was a history major in college, as our discussions could effortlessly weave between Santa Monica, Ancient Rome, and other historical topics.

Bob Holbrook at 2011 National Night Out

Bob loves his history. More than that, he loves a good cruise ship story; loves Fromin's! A dedicated family man that loves his family, and loves telling stories about his dad, who was a Los Angeles City Firefighter. Bob has always had tremendous love and respect for the fire service. Anytime we met, he has always been available to hear of our triumphs and struggles.

Through those many breakfasts, what stood out the most, was the love Bob has for the city and people of Santa Monica. It is undeniable. I miss my morning breakfasts with the pharmacist by day, council member by night, but the Bob Holbrook brand of service and his deep compassion for this city continues -- those he has touched apply it to their work day in and day out.

I am grateful for all those breakfasts with Bob, and forever indebted to him and the city he worked tirelessly for. Bob has been a mentor to me, a reliable friend, and a lifetime brother of the Santa Monica Fire Department.

Jay Trisler (former president of Santa Monica Police Officers Association)

I am fortunate to have a man in my life that is a mentor to me professionally and personally. He is Bob Holbrook.

I first met the mayor at a city council meeting. As a young police officer, I found him to be humble and courteous. Over the years we developed a friendship and it reaffirmed my belief.

I love to have coffee with Bob at Fromin’s. It is amazing all the people that stop by the table to say hello to him. In all the encounters, I never heard him say a negative word about anyone. To the contrary, he would always point out a positive attribute.

During these moments of coffee and conversation, Bob would talk about his wife, grandchildren, children and USC. Every cup of coffee was a learning experience for me. His wisdom and insight have not been wasted on me.

In all the advice he has given me, he has never been wrong. He has encouraged me to take chances that I would not have otherwise taken. I wish that I could have his temperament, empathy and compassion. Bob is a great man and I a proud to call him a friend.

Donna Block (member of Santa Monica Republican Women Federated)

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Bob Holbrook is what a decent man he is. The first time I met him was at a PTA luncheon; he was Mayor at the time and was there as our guest speaker.

I was so impressed with his commitment to education. When he spoke to us, it was evident that he truly believed in what he was saying. Bob was not just another phony politician pitching for votes. He has always been a man with integrity.

There has not been anything in the last 25 years that has ever made me question my first impression of him as a decent man. Whether he agrees with you or not, he is always willing to listen with an open mind and talk with you, not at you.

Of course there was that Target issue. Even Jean Ann couldn’t get him to budge on that one!

Some of my friends and I use to have a pet name for Bob when he was on the Council: it was the Maytag Repair Man. We thought how lonely it must be being the only voice of reason.

I’ve worked on just about every election in this city with Bob in some way or another, very often feeling like the Maytag man myself, except for the times he was re-elected.

Bob, you were always our hero, a glint of hope in the machine politics of Santa Monica. I think I retired from politics when you did. I’m honored to have a friend like you.

Rick Cole (City Manager 2015 to present)

Although I became City Manager in Santa Monica after Bob Holbrook stepped down from the Council (following a long and distinguished career of volunteer public service), anyone involved in local government in Southern California, as I have been, knew the outstanding work he did in Santa Monica.

Beyond that, he was well-regarded as a common sense voice for responsible local government in the larger region. Calm, considerate, thoughtful, caring and committed -- these were all hallmarks of his reputation well beyond our community.

Over the years, I had the privilege of seeing him at conferences on vital issues and hearing his voice on KCRW whenever I listened in to Santa Monica Council meetings (which a surprising number of people do throughout Southern California!)

But I’ve also come to know Bob in a much more personal and special way since moving to Santa Monica and discovering I was living on the same floor as Bob and his equally civic-minded wife and partner, Jean Ann!

They had given up their longtime home because of the stairs and moved into their daughter’s condo. I have had the pleasure of hearing Bob’s always helpful insights and perspectives –- shared unselfishly as background to my duties tackling many of the challenges that he worked on for more than three decades.

Bob Holbrook truly is a statesman whose love for Santa Monica transcends political factions, ideological viewpoints and single-issue interest groups. I am deeply grateful to call him a friend -- and an inspiration.

Bob Sullivan (president Sullivan Dituri and former member of several City Boards and Commissions)

I first worked with Bob as a councilman when I was on the Planning Commission.

He was an honest politician, and over time he has done a lot to improve Santa Monica.

Tom Larmore (partner Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP)

In the April, 1983 City elections, the fledgling All Santa Monica Coalition supported three successful candidates for the Board of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District -- Bob Holbrook, Diane Berman and Della Barrett.

Little did we know, or suspect, that we were helping to launch Bob’s 31-year career as an elected official in Santa Monica -- two terms on the School Board followed by six terms as a Councilmember, including a stint as Mayor.

Of course, we knew Bob as the smart, gregarious person that he is but it was only after two or three successful elections that we came to appreciate the degree to which Bob was trusted by a wide swath of the electorate.

In periods of hyper-partisanship, Bob managed to maintain his Council seat, not by succumbing to that style of campaigning, scheming or voting but by simply being himself and reflecting the good sense of the entire community.

This level of trust arose from Bob’s engaging personality and generally good judgment and the fact that he’s lived in Santa Monica virtually his entire life. Moreover, as Bob likes to say, pharmacist is one of the most respected and trusted professions.

Our family has had a special bond with the Bob and his wife Jean Ann since our children were about the same age and knew each other in school and Bob assisted our son in being admitted to USC -- a fact that despite our family’s deep UCLA roots, was very much appreciated.

We salute Bob for his almost lifelong service to the residents of Santa Monica.

Della Barrett (member of Santa Monica Malibu USD Board of Education 1983-1990)

I met Bob in 1983, when he, Diane Berman, and I formed a slate to run for three of the four open seats on the Santa Monica/Malibu Board of Education.

At that time, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) had just begun to dominate Santa Monica politics. There were three slates of candidates running for school board that year: one slate backed by SMRR, a slate backed by a conservative Santa Monica church -- and the three of us. No one, including ourselves, really expected us to win.

Bob was a tower of strength, humor, and optimism during the campaign. On election night, when the first returns began to come in, they showed us losing badly. I thought that was bad news, but Bob said "Losing two to one in Ocean Park! We've got'em right were we want'em!"

Indeed he was right, and we did squeak through to a narrow win. I believe we were the last slate of candidates for any political position in Santa Monica to win without SMRR's endorsement.

During the two terms Bob and I served on the School Board, I treasured his dedication to the schools, his hard work, his optimism, and always his sense of humor.

Dianne Berman (former president and School Board member 1983 - 86)

My friendship with Bob Holbrook began when he first launched his longstanding and successful political career in Santa Monica. Bob was a B.E.S.T. (Best Education for Students Today) candidate for the Santa Monica/Malibu School Board in 1983.

While a political novice, he was enthusiastic and energized by the entire election process. When elected he served with a strong commitment to all the students and teachers in the District and made himself easily accessible to the entire community.

Bob listened well to any and all concerns presented and especially appreciated the positive outcomes experienced in the schools. As a former student and parent of students in the District he had history, experience and an awareness of the school and Santa Monica community that enriched his contributions on the School Board and informed his decisions. During his tenure, Bob was both a valuable resource and strong advocate for the students, teachers and community.

Some of the issues of those days were difficult and extremely challenging but Bob was always positive, looking for the silver lining within the many clouds lingering overhead. His infectious smile and sense of humor brightened many of the hardest days the District faced. His strong work ethic and dedication to the decisions he was elected to make as well as the people he was elected to serve seemed to motivate and sustain him.

I think Bob genuinely enjoyed all his years of service as a member of the School Board and the City Council. His passion and commitment to serve his community are unsurpassed. Santa Monica has been blessed by the gifts Bob Holbrook has shared with all of us.

Cheryl Richardson (longtime friend)

When I reflect on what Bob Holbrook means to me, I can’t help but to selfishly consider what an honor and gift I consider it to know him and Jean Ann.

Bob has the most unique blend of intelligence, wit, humor and most of all a huge heart that can’t begin to contain his compassionate nature.

His love of the City of Santa Monica and USC Trojans could only ever be surpassed by his deep love for his beautiful family. He is an example of what is meant when you hear the words “good man.” We are all better for having the opportunity to share time with him.

Kip Dellinger (CPA and Santa Monica activist and commentator)

I’ve known or know of Bob Holbrook virtually all my life -- as we’re both home grown in Santa Monica. I worked on a few political campaigns in his arena and even handled the funds and banking for Bob (and two other candidates) in the 1994 council election campaign. And we shared a passion for school issues and worked on the same funding campaigns

I’ve read all the lovely tributes about Bob here at The Lookout the past few days and have concluded they’re only partially right; partially right because no matter how laudatory the words or who speaks them, none can quite do justice to the decency and thoughtfulness that Bob has displayed continuously every day for a lifetime in his love of this city and its residents.


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