January 3, 2008
New DWP chief David Nahai takes on major challenges
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"He got his hands dirty," Garcetti recalled, "and David got to see how DWP functioned -- and didn't function." And he developed a new ambition.
Early last summer, after then-general manager Deaton was sidelined with heart arrhythmia, Nahai, according to the Daily News, suggested to the mayor that he be the next general manager. Some council members suggested a nationwide search instead. The mayor picked Nahai.
"It was a gamble," said Garcetti. "An outsider might have taken months to crack the DWP culture. Instead, the mayor put his bet down on a local." A local, however, who both knew the DWP culture, yet was not of it. Said Garcetti: "Now he faces the greatest challenge I have ever seen anyone face at City Hall."
Nahai has faced challenges before. As a Jew born in Iran, he calls himself "a double minority." As a child and youth, he shuttled from Iran to England to the United States in the shadow of Iran's 1976 Islamic revolution. His father was imprisoned in Iran. Nahai studied law at both Berkeley and the London School of Economics and passed the California State Bar in 1979.
Nahai claims to have found his environmentalist's conviction even earlier -- from his readings in English boarding school. He was appointed to the Regional Water board by then-governor Pete Wilson in 1997 and has chaired it since 1999. He led the board on touchy issues like beach water purity and cleaning up the L.A. River. He was a board member of the League of Conservation Voters and developed a reputation as an environmentalist who argued with unique conviction and eloquence.
Meanwhile, he developed his Nahai law firm (from which he has resigned) into a formidable player in real estate and environmental law. He lives with his wife, the novelist and Jewish Journal columnist Gina Nahai, two sons and a daughter in "Beverly Hills-adjacent" Los Angeles. He regrets that with his DWP job, he's had to relinquish his work with Jewish organizations, including The Jewish Federation. But he still works with Magbit, an association of Persian Jews.
Looking ahead at his new job, Nahai sees it as a challenge he's been preparing for all his professional life, particularly starting with his English and American legal educations at Berkeley and the London School of Economics. "I was very fortunate to have attended those particular places at the time I did. Both places were mind expanding," he said. "They taught me to be open to new opportunities wherever they come from."
And right now, attorney Nahai is probably facing the biggest opportunity, either for triumph or failure, that may ever come his way.
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