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Ventura County

Learning to Branch Out From Thousand Oaks

Profile: Retired city manager still has roots in the city he helped to grow, but he's spreading his expertise around.

November 29, 2001|NANCY KINSEY NEEDHAM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Grant Brimhall first pulled into Thousand Oaks 24 years ago, he wasn't all that impressed.

But he returned for his interview for the city manager position and got the job, which he held for 20 years.

Three years after retiring, Brimhall, 64, still lives in his Lynn Ranch home--and still is high on the city he has come to love.

But he has cut back from the 60 to 70 hours weekly that he used to work as he helped Thousand Oaks grow from a town of 63,000 in 1978 to a city of 118,000 in 1998.

Now he's working 45 hours a week as a consultant to other city managers--advising them on how to tap into state funding--using the expertise he gained while helping to find funds that contributed to the building of the city's library, Civic Arts Plaza, and teen and senior centers.

It all began in 1978 when Brimhall, then city manager of Glendora, drove to what he had heard was a well-planned city in eastern Ventura County.

He pulled off the Ventura Freeway at Hampshire Road. "It didn't look exciting," he said, "and I wondered, 'Do I really want to apply?' "

But a man at a gas station told him he would find better parts of the city if he went in either direction on Thousand Oaks Boulevard. As Brimhall drove around, he found families playing in parks, soccer teams practicing and people jogging, walking dogs and riding horses.

One area that he viewed on his first visit to Thousand Oaks is now the site of the Civic Arts Plaza, home to two theaters and City Hall. Across the street, construction is proceeding on a Gardens of the World park, complete with waterfalls.

Not far away on Janss Road is the Grant R. Brimhall Library.

When he arrived, Brimhall was surprised at the city's 7,000-square-foot library, which failed to meet residents' needs. Today, Thousand Oaks boasts the 80,000-square-foot Brimhall facility and a 20,000-square-foot Newbury Park branch.

From the moment he was hired, Brimhall said, he began working to improve the Police Department facility and the library, as well as aiming to boost open space and create a cultural center.

"Educated people won't move their families to a city where there is no culture," Brimhall said.

The former city manager doesn't take all the credit. He based his work on a master plan created early in the city's history. He also credited city councils that had vision.

But two former mayors give a lot of that credit back to Brimhall.

"We couldn't have gotten anyone any better," said Alex Fiore, who served on the City Council from 1964 to 1994. "He is a brilliant man who is very creative and is great at problem-solving. He had his hands on everything. He knew where the city wanted to go and he took us there."

Former Mayor Judy Lazar said, "Grant Brimhall has a way of making the impossible happen."

He helped obtain funding for many of the city's facilities, Lazar said. That's why the council decided to name the library after him, she said.

He learned of the plan at a retirement party.

"My mother was a librarian who never graduated from eighth grade but was self-educated through personal study while raising 13 children," said Brimhall, the youngest sibling. "I could not speak--it was an unbelievable honor."

Though Brimhall left on a high note, the job of running a city for 20 years had many ups and downs. The good times included the acquisition of open space and the construction of the library and Civic Arts Plaza. The lows came in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when state cuts led to layoffs, Brimhall said.

All but one of those employees were eventually hired back, he said.

He retired in February 1998 to spend more time with his family and in his church. He was recently appointed a patriarch in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in that position gives spiritual guidance to others in the church.

As much as he loves Thousand Oaks, Brimhall does not plan to spend the rest of his life there.

It will be a home base, since many of his six children and 17 grandchildren live there. But he and his wife, Avis, plan to do some traveling as missionaries for their church in the near future.

"Avis and I have been looking forward to serving a mission for a long time," Brimhall said. "We just want to do whatever we can do to help people."

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