Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

George A. Caravalho

Santa Clarita's First Permanent City Manager

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George A. Caravalho, Santa Clarita's first permanent city manager serving from 1988 to 2002, died Sunday, January 5, 2020. He was 81.

Caravalho, who retired from public life in 2008, was living in Santa Cruz.

Caravalho came to the city of Santa Clarita in 1988 as its first permanent city manager, following interim manager Fred Bien, who set up the city's initial government structure following incorporation on Dec. 15, 1987.

The George A. Caravalho Santa Clarita Sports Complex at 20840 Centre Pointe Parkway was dedicated in his honor by the city on December 5, 1998.

Prior to Santa Clarita, Caravalho worked at the city of Bakersfield as city manager and executive director of its Redevelopment Agency from 1984-1988.

Before that, he was city manager for the city of San Clemente from 1980-1985.

After leaving Santa Clarita in 2002, Caravalho was named city manager for the city of Riverside, and in 2005, he was named director of Dana Point Harbor in Orange County, a post he held until 2007.

Visionary and Mentor.

Ken Pulskamp, Santa Clarita's first assistant city manager and Caravalho's right-hand man, was named city manager after Caravalho left for Riverside, and served until 2012. Pulskamp's Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin succeeded him and is the current city manager.

Pulskamp posted this tribute on his Facebook page Monday afternoon:

All three permanent city managers in 2016: George Caravalho (1988-2002), Ken Pulskamp (2002-2012), Ken Striplin (2012-present). Photo: Gail Morgan. Click to enlarge.

"It is with tremendous sadness that I announce the passing of my dear friend, George Caravalho.

"He was a leader, a visionary, my friend and an all-around amazing person.

"Over the course of his career, George mentored scores of young people; many of whom are now serving as City Managers and CEOs throughout California and beyond. I have lost my best friend of 35 years.

"I will do what I can to continue George's legacy of community service and commitment to mentoring others for the betterment of our communities.

"George consistently supported the downtrodden and the underdogs. He made people around him be better people. The world will be less bright without his glow.

"George passed on January 5 in the company of his beloved wife, Mary. He leaves behind two wonderful sons, Gus and Danny of whom he was tremendously proud. Please join me in praying for George and his family as they mourn this loss."

Said Striplin, in a statement Monday afternoon: "George Caravalho helped construct the foundation of the city of Santa Clarita. His mastery of management supported the City Council's vision of what our city could be, and has become — a safe, family-friendly place to live, work and play — with beautiful parks, miles of trails, transportation options, commerce, strong infrastructure and solid financial footing. He paved the way for me as a City Manager, and I will always value him as a mentor, colleague and friend."

Professional Leadership.

Born August 1, 1938, Caravalho earned his Bachelor's degree in Sociology and his Master's in Political Science and Government from San Jose State University prior to embarking on his career in public service.

He served on the board of directors for organizations such as the International City Manager's Association, the League of California Cities, the American Red Cross, United Way, and the Boys and Girls Club. He was also the Chairman of the League of California Cities Investing In Our Youth Task Force.

Caravalho was the 1996 recipient of the International City/County Management Association Mark E. Kean Award for Excellence for his outstanding contributions to government. He received more than 40 awards for innovation and excellence.

In addition, he was an adjunct professor of leadership and strategic management at California State University, Northridge.

Caravalho is survived by his wife Mary and their two sons, Gus and Danny.

Services will be held Monday, January 13, 2020 at 11 a.m. at the Santa Cruz Memorial-Mission Chapel, 1927 Ocean Street Ext., Santa Cruz, CA 95060. He will be laid to rest at Santa Cruz Memorial Park.

image The George A. Caravalho Santa Clarita Sports Complex at 20840 Centre Pointe Parkway was dedicated in his honor by the city on December 5, 1998. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples. Click image to enlarge.


My name is Ken Pulskamp. I have known the Caravalhos for over 35 years. Our kids grew up together. I think my daughters and I had more meals at the Caravalho house than we did at our own. I worked for George for over 18 years. During that time, he gave me lots of crappy assignments, but I can say unequivocally: This is the worst. George was the best friend I've ever had.

It is my honor and privilege to welcome and thank you all on behalf of Mary and her sons, Gus and Danny and all of their family members. Thank you for being here to comfort them and help them reflect, remember and reminisce about George.

Heavenly Father, we gather today to remember and honor George. We want to thank you, Lord, for his life here and how he touched so many lives. The Bible tells us death is not the end, but it's just a transition we will all go through. Eternity is on the other side. Help us get a glimpse of that. Comfort those that are grieving during this time.

"There is a time and a season for everything: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest ... a time to laugh and a time to cry."

Increase our faith for today and give us hope for tomorrow. Refresh our memories of George's life so that it will encourage and comfort his family and friends as we remember him. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

* * *

George was born in 1938.

A gallon of gas was ten cents.

The unemployment rate was 19 percent, and the Great Depression was lingering

Average annual salary was $1,700.

A new house cost $3,900.

A new car was $763.

Howard Hughes set a record by flying around the world in 91 hours.

Franklin Roosevelt was President.

Best picture was "You Can't Take It With You" starring Jimmy Stewart.

Best song Was Fred Astaire's "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in the upset deemed the match of the century in horse racing.

On August 1, George Caravalho was born to Joe and Beatrice in Kohala, Hawaii, and so the journey began.

* * *

George grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii before it was a state. For all intents and purposes, it was a third-world country. His village was mostly Quonset huts in the middle of the jungle. He and his family worked in the sugar cane fields. For fun, George would go out at night with his family and friends on the Parker Ranch and hunt wild boar with knives and dogs. Can you imagine? George didn't wear shoes until high school.

This idyllic childhood came to a crashing halt when he joined the U.S. Marines in 1956. When he was shipped to the mainland, he was ordered to the bow as they entered under the Golden Gate bridge. This was the first time George experienced cold. He did NOT like it. But the U.S. Marines have a long history of being compassionate to new recruits. They shipped him to Twentynine Palms. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire. George became the bodyguard for the U.S. ambassador in Cambodia.

These two experiences, Hawaii and the Marine Corps, greatly influenced who George became.

George was cool like Hawaii. One time at a raucous party at my house in Bakersfield, George floated on a raft in the pool. A 350-pound man decided to play a joke on George and launched himself from the diving board as a human cannonball, inches from George's head. George never flinched. Cool as the other side of the pillow.

George was a softie. After telling the employees "no" to their request for casual Fridays for years, George finally capitulated at an employee meeting, but with the caveat, "No hula skirts!"

But George was always a Marine at heart. Tough. Disciplined. Loyal. Just. Decisive. Unselfish. Courageous. Ethical. Dependable. Fit.

This was George. And this is what he expected from those who had the pleasure of working for him.

George went on to become the most respected city manager in the state if not the entire country. When George walked into a room at a city manager conference, it was like Willie Mays showing up at a Giants game. All eyes were on him, and everyone wanted to talk to him.

George got a degree in sociology from San Jose State, got a master's from Yale and graduated from Harvard. He was the city manager of four different cities.

George's crowning achievement was being the first city manager in the newly incorporated city of Santa Clarita. He took a city with no rules, no city hall, no employees and virtually no infrastructure and turned it into a city that has now won every award that exists.

His best days were after the 1994 earthquake. We had been a city for only seven years and suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Our "everything" was broken. No roads. No water. We had fires and oil leaks. There was no way into or out of our community. Our city hall was red-tagged, which meant it could not be entered. Our employees and our citizens were scared.

George had us set up shop in a tent in the rain in the City Hall parking lot and get to work. He was the right guy at the right time. His confidence put everyone at ease. He was cool under pressure, but we all knew we were working for a Marine, and we would take this hill. Semper fi! The city emerged from the quake better and stronger than prior to the quake. That was George Caravalho.

George was always eager to help people. He had so many successes in this arena, it's hard to describe. He also had a ton of failures, as has everyone who spends much time trying to help people. George was never deterred.

When George and I were in Bakersfield, we befriended a 20-something city manager of Shafter named Wade McKinney. Wade told me this week he remembers George explaining to him the great responsibility he had to serve the public and to help those who need a hand. Wade said he couldn't count the number of times George lifted him up and made a huge difference in his life and the life of his family. That was George. Similar stories are countless.

His mentoring of people is legendary. George believed in people, especially underdogs, so steadfastly that they began to believe in themselves. I have received literally hundreds of communications this week from people commenting on the impact George had on their lives. Here are just a couple:

"I reflect on the positive impact he had on me and so many others. He was the trajectory of my life. I was profoundly changed by him. He changed my style of leadership, but more importantly, he changed my values."

Another wrote: "George was a real mentor to me, and I reflect upon the tremendous impact he had on me personally and professionally. Good grief, what a man! I loved George dearly."

* * *

I met George in a bar not too far from here. I was working for the city of Fresno and had just won an award. I wanted a beer to celebrate. I walked in, and there sat George. He motioned me over and asked if I was the kid who had just gotten an award. I said I was. He said, "Come on over, I'll buy you a beer." I was so impressed after talking to him that I vowed that I would do whatever it took to get a job working for him.

Not long after, George hired me as his assistant city manager in Bakersfield. You really have to be impressed with someone to be willing to move to Bakersfield to work for him! This was the beginning of a beautiful and successful relationship.

George wasn't a big church guy, but he did understand that Jesus said the greatest commandment is this: "Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."

It's not necessarily about going to church. That's important, too, but going to church doesn't make someone a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes someone a hamburger. Being a Christian is about loving people. Saint Francis of Assisi said we should preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words. George walked the walk and gave everyone he met an example of how to live a purposeful and loving life.

George was a father figure to me, as well. He was my boss, too. But at the end of the day, he was my friend but really more like my brother. I always had his back, and he always had mine. Unconditionally. Unequivocally. Consistently. How blessed I feel to have had him in my life.

George was forever setting goals for himself. Being his employee or his son or an acquaintance meant you had to set goals, too. Not just set them but achieve them. He felt personally responsible for making everyone around him better. How cool is that?

George personified constant growth, life-long learning and continual improvement. His staff dreaded when George went on a long flight. That pretty much guaranteed we would have new, visionary assignments and new books to read. He would have us read poems, too. One of his favorites was "The Station." It was about a person on a journey with an idyllic vision of traveling by train through amazing scenery of rolling hillsides, children waving at crossroads and beautiful mountains. The thing uppermost in the passenger's mind, however, was the final destination. At the final destination, all of the passengers' dreams would be realized. He'd turn 18. He'd get the new 450-SL Mercedes. He'd get the promotion. He'd pay off the mortgage.

George and the poet reminded us there is no station. The joy of life is the trip, the journey. Psalm 118 reminds us, "This is the day the Lord hath made / let us rejoice and be glad." The poem ends with the advice, "So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Climb more mountains. Eat more ice cream. Swim more rivers. Watch more sunsets. Laugh more. Cry less. The station will come soon enough." George was the personification of this poem.

* * *

I don't like funerals. I don't like them any more if they are called celebrations of life. But on some level, we should. They always remind us to think about life and remind us what is most important to us. It makes us think about our own mortality, about God and what comes next.

My final goodbye to George was at Gus's wedding. The boys and I walked George to his car to say goodnight. I got him in a bear hug and told him how much I loved him and that no other human being has had a bigger impact on my life. We all cried like schoolgirls and said goodbye. What a wonderful memory.

George Caravalho is a tremendous role model to all of us. As you go through life and are trying to figure out what to do, if you ask yourself, "What would George do?" you will be just fine. If you have a chance to help somebody, mentor someone, believe in an underdog, inspire someone, dare to dream an audacious vision, do it. And remember George.

Heavenly Father, thank you again for George and all he accomplished and how his life influenced so many. Thank you for the legacy he left us. Lord, I pray that you will comfort Mary and the family with the people you have surrounded them with today. As they move through this season of sadness, remind them how much you love them, and teach us all to number our days that we may apply our hearts toward your wisdom in all that we do, in Jesus' name. Amen.

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