Fountain Valley Woman to Run L.A. Unit : Government: Lillian Kawasaki is the first Asian-American to head a city of Los Angeles department.


A Fountain Valley woman has become the first Asian-American to be named as head of a city of Los Angeles department.

Lillian Kawasaki, 39, who has worked for the Los Angeles Harbor Department since 1978, was named by Mayor Tom Bradley on Friday to head the new Department of Environmental Affairs.

The department, created last spring over Bradley’s opposition, will have an initial annual budget of $1 million and a staff of 20. Kawasaki’s salary will be $82,000 a year.

Bradley opposed creation of the department out of fear it would set off turf wars among departments, many of which have some responsibility for environmental matters.


Bradley said Friday that Kawasaki will be the city’s “principal educator” on environmental matters. “We hope to have her deliver the message to the public so that they will get involved in the efforts of the 1990s as we engage in a vigorous environmental program in the city of Los Angeles.

“She has worked with many of the city agencies and that is going to be one of her assignments,” Bradley said. “We hope that this cooperative effort is going to give us the best attack on the problems that confront us.”

She will be the first Asian-American to be appointed general manager of a department, although others have served as acting bureau heads, the mayor said.

Kawasaki is not well-known among environmentalists.


Robert Sulnick, executive director of the American Oceans Campaign, who strongly endorsed creation of the new city office, said he was not familiar with Kawasaki. He said he had hoped that a well-known environmentalist would be named to the post.

“None of us were asked or included in the process that I’m aware of,” Sulnick said. “But, I’m not trying to be negative. This may be a wonderful appointment. I simply don’t know. But I have great hope for the agency.”

Mary Nichols, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council offices in Los Angeles, said: “She’s as good a choice as you could have found within the city family.” Nichols said Kawasaki was picked from among several candidates “based on her abilities as an environmental manager, as opposed to being an environmental advocate.” Nichols agreed that few in the environmental movement know much about Kawasaki.

Kawasaki said the new department will coordinate city environmental measures and “guide, support and really strengthen the city’s commitment to improving the citizens’ quality of life.”