2021 YEAR IN REVIEW: City mourned death of ex-Councilman Tom LaBonge

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Wave Staff Report

LOS ANGELES — The city lost one of its all-time loudest cheerleaders when former City Councilman Tom LaBonge died last Jan. 7.

LaBonge spent much of his adult life as an ambassador for the city, including 14 years on the City Council. His enthusiasm for the city and his seemingly endless knowledge of its history earned him the nickname “Mr. Los Angeles.” He represented the council’s Fourth District from 2001 to 2015, overseeing an area that includes Koreatown, Mid-Wilshire, the Miracle Mile, Fairfax District and much of Hollywood, Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Griffith Park.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who represented the neighboring 13th District on the council during most of LaBonge’s tenure, said: “We often said that while we shared a border, there was no dividing line between us, our work, and our districts.

“From the revitalization of Hollywood to the preservation of Silver Lake, there was no better friend or partner I ever had. No one knew more Angelenos, no person gave more waking hours to our city, no one was a greater cheerleader for our town than Tom.

“He was a true public servant who was never afraid to roll up his sleeves or pull a city worker over if a constituent needed help or a street needed servicing at a moment’s notice.”

LaBonge, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Cal State Los Angeles, was a city employee or councilman for nearly 40 years. He went to work for Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson of the 13th District in 1976, then joined Council President John Ferraro’s Fourth Council District office in 1978.

LaBonge was also chief of field operations for then-Mayor Richard Riordan.

LaBonge’s accomplishments in office included expansion of Griffith Park by 500 acres, restoration and expansion of Griffith Observatory and the Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Hollywood.

On June 30, 2015, his final day on the City Council, his colleagues designated the intersection of Tracy and St. George streets in front of John Marshall High School in Los Feliz as Tom LaBonge Square for his contributions to his alma mater.

LaBonge was known for his outsized personality, reflected in his deep knowledge of high school football teams, penchant for big hugs and love of classic Los Angeles institutions such as Pink’s Hot Dogs along with his hands-on approach to serving constituents. He was frequently spotted hiking through Griffith Park.

He also was known for passing out loaves of bread baked by the nuns at the Monastery of the Angels.

An avid photographer, he also was a major supporter of the Los Angeles Public Library and its photo collection, to which he donated and supported efforts to digitize nearly 41,000 images for easier access.

Councilman Paul Koretz once called LaBonge his “role model for constituent services.”

After leaving the City Council because of term limits, LaBonge founded the LaBonge Consulting Group, which he described on his LinkedIn page as “an extension of my ability to create relationships and connect people with the common goal of fortifying the cultural ties of this great city.”

A month after his death, two city council members introduced a motion to have LaBonge’s voice added to the recorded welcome message on the city’s 311 information line.

LaBonge was added to the MyLA311 message, saying, “Hi this is Tom LaBonge. Let’s continue to enjoy and love Los Angeles.”

The city remembered LaBonge in October with five “Tom LaBonge Day of Service” cleanup events around the city.

City officials spoke at each event, with Garcetti, City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, LaBonge’s widow Brigid LaBonge and Nelson Mejia of the Department of Water and Power gathering for a cleanup at Silver Lake Meadows.

“Tom’s love for Los Angeles was legendary, and the joy he had for public service was contagious,” O’Farrell said. “Tom was always ready to lend a helping hand. He carried tools, gloves and supplies in his car, and was often seen throughout his district — and across the city — picking up trash, clearing storm drains or cutting back overgrown brush.

“Tom never missed a moment to beautify even the smallest corner of the city and never missed a moment to be of service to others.”

The events celebrated what would have been LaBonge’s 68th birthday Oct. 6.


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