Bob Hertzberg is the first former Assembly Speaker in 86 years to be elected to the California State Senate, and one of only six lawmakers in California history to serve as Assembly Speaker and subsequently win a seat in the Senate.
What makes his political journey even more remarkable is that his two stints in the Legislature were separated by a dozen years of public policy activism as a private citizen, lawyer and businessman.
Now representing nearly 1 million residents of the San Fernando Valley in the Senate, Hertzberg remains committed to looking at the big challenges facing California. In the words of one veteran Sacramento columnist, he is “an intense bundle of energy, an all-night negotiator.”
A native of Los Angeles, Hertzberg grew up in a household where elders encouraged the children to share their views. His father, Harrison, was a lawyer and his mother, Antoinette “Bunny,” raised her five sons to think for themselves.
The best notions were the ones that challenged convention. Around the dinner table, the family exchanged a steady stream of ideas meant to provoke creative thinking.
After graduating from Palm Springs High, Hertzberg enrolled at the University of Redlands, where he pursued a double major in History and English. He wrote a 400-page handbook titled “A Commonsense Approach to English” and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
As an undergraduate student, he caught the bug of politics and served as a volunteer in a number of campaigns in south and east Los Angeles. He organized fellow students on behalf of Mervyn Dymally’s historic run for lieutenant governor in 1974. Hertzberg drove Dymally to each and every one of California’s 58 counties. The campaign ended with Dymally’s election as California’s first African-American lieutenant governor.
In 1979, Hertzberg earned his law degree from Hastings College of the Law and became a member of the California Bar. He co-authored a manual on real estate law published by the University of California and represented clients at several Los Angeles-area firms. The Los Angeles Business Journal named him one of the top ten lawyers in Los Angeles, and The Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, has repeatedly named him one of the top 100 lawyers in California.
In 1996, Hertzberg ran for the 40th Assembly District seat, a slice of the San Fernando Valley that took in North Hollywood, Studio City, Van Nuys and Woodland Hills. He won by a large margin.
Re-elected twice by even wider margins, he also was twice chosen by his colleagues as the 64th Speaker of the California State Assembly, a post he held from January 2000 through February 2002. A non-partisan magazine on California politics and government, California Journal, rated Hertzberg as one of three ‘elite’ members of the 80-seat Assembly during these years, saying he is best at problem solving, influence and work ethic while possessing “serious (brain) wattage.”
During his time in the Assembly, Hertzberg helped shape and pass legislation that hammered out agriculture-to-urban water transfers, providing a framework to end nearly seven decades of California/Colorado River water disputes.
On the education front, Hertzberg helped increase funds available through the “Cal-Grants” program, giving poor students unprecedented access to colleges and universities. He also negotiated a compromise that allowed the California Legislature to break a decade-long logjam and place school bond-related measures on the 1998, 2000 and 2002 ballots. The resulting tens of billions in school construction funds became one of the largest municipal bond issuances in U.S. history. Hertzberg was also instrumental in establishing a University of California campus in Merced—the system’s 10th campus—to serve students in an underserved region.
Other issues he supported include the launch of Metro’s Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley; construction of the California State University Northridge Valley Performing Arts Center; and construction of sound walls for the 405 Freeway.
When term limits forced his retirement in 2002, Hertzberg became a global clean-energy entrepreneur and helped develop bipartisan policies as a leader in public-service groups like The Think Long Committee. He traveled extensively, visiting much of China and numerous countries in Africa.
In recognition of his clean energy efforts in Rwanda, he received the “World Bank Award for Lighting Africa.” The United Kingdom-based Guardian, one of Europe’s leading newspapers, named him one of the “50 People Who Could Save the Planet.”
Hertzberg helped create one of the first solar companies in Los Angeles, winning the 2005 Wall Street Journal Innovation of the Year Award. And he co-launched a company that produced inexpensive, lightweight solar panels.
In 2014, Hertzberg decided it was time for a second act in politics. The Van Nuys Democrat ran for the 18th District of the California State Senate and secured more than 70 percent of the vote.
Today, Hertzberg is once again walking the halls of the Capitol. Older and wiser, to be sure, but he’s still coming up with ideas to meet California’s challenges. His first bill as a Senator, for example, was a sweeping overhaul of California’s complex tax system to fund education, higher education and local government.
He chairs the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance and serves on the Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments; the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications; the Committee on the Judiciary; and the Committee on Natural Resources and Water.
Hertzberg has two grown sons. David is a classical music composer and a Juilliard graduate, and Daniel graduated from Goucher College and, like his father, loves politics and public policy.
Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map HERE or at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district. After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. More HERE or at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg
Top photo by Ray Sotero; bottom photo by Lorie Shelley.