By Carl Robinette
If you asked 10 people how they would spend their ideal retirement you would probably get 10 different answers. You might hear about plans to travel, spend time with family and plans to move to warm places with sandy beaches. What you probably would not hear are plans to solve waste problems in America’s biggest city and build facilities to help California’s mentally ill homeless. Nor would you hear plans to investigate unsolved homicides—that is unless you are talking to retired Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith.
From 2003-2011 Smith represented Council District 12 which serves the neighborhoods of Northridge, Chatsworth, Granada Hills, Porter Ranch and other parts of the western San Fernando Valley.
While in the council seat he made the city’s waste management a priority and spearheaded RENEW LA — Recovering Energy Natural Resources, and Economic Benefit from Waste for Los Angeles. In “retirement” he is seeing the plan through to its final stages as a city consultant in the creation of facilities that will convert trash to energy.
Smith looks to Germany’s waste-energy-program that has practically eliminated the need for landfills, and hopes to eventually see the closure of the Sunshine Canyon Landfill here in the Valley which absorbs tons of trash from the City of L.A.
Clearly his dedication to Los Angeles hasn’t waned, but ask him why he didn’t run for a third term and Smith will tell you it was his age, long years of service and the exhaustion from dealing with stubborn and ineffectual fellow officials.
“I got tired of banging my head against the wall,” he said. Then he gave much simpler reason. “I promised the people that I would serve two terms.”
With 32 years in city service in various capacities, Smith says that the number one crisis facing Los Angeles is still a fiscal crisis. The only way to fix it, he says with regret, is reducing the pensions and payroll of city employees.
“When revenues go down you can either raise taxes, which I think is a bad thing to do in a down economy,” Smith said, “or, you can reduce spending.”
When 90 percent of the budget goes to payroll, then shrinking payroll is the only way to reduce spending, Smith said. This was the “wall” that he could no longer bang his head against.
“Here we are two years later,and they still haven’t fully resolved the fiscal problems.”
When asked about his thoughts on the mayoral candidates and who can best get the job done, Smith said that he has endorsed Jan Perry. "She is a no-nonsense person who can do the things necessary to fix the city," said Smith.
For now Smith focuses his energies on areas where he can make a difference.
Working with Optiflex Properties, Smith is leading the effort in Riverside County to create mental health facilities for people who would otherwise be institutionalized in a county hospital.
This is a deeply personal issue for Smith having a cousin who suffered life-long mental illness and for whom Smith became the legal guardian after her mother passed away.
Not only is it better for the patients but as a privately run facility it will save the county about $9 million a year, Smith said.
And here at home, he makes plenty of time for what he calls his hobby —investigating cold case homicides as a reserve officer for the LAPD. He has solved one case and expects to wrap up another one very soon.
“It’s very ugly to look at murder,” he said. “But I like solving puzzles. Somebody lost their life, and it’s my job to find out who did it.”
In his spare time Smith also volunteers in the effort to restore the Oakridge Estate, which he secured for public use while in office. As if this all weren’t enough, he is also actively involved with the local YMCA and PALs organizations.
Still, the former councilman is a family man first. He still manages to travel with his wife of 40 years, Chris, and there are two people he always clears his schedule for whenever they come around—his grandchildren.
“The greatest part about retirement is you have time to do what you want to do,” Smith said.
-- This article first appeared in Community Connection, http://www.SFVlocal.com, and is reprinted with permission.