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NC official has a lasting legacy

John HartBeryl P. Robinson Jr. is seen here with the former city manager for Grass Valley, Dave Breninger (right), in front of the Nevada City City Hall in April of 2002.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

In a state where the average tenure of a city manager is six years, Beryl P. Robinson, Jr, the state’s longest tenured city manager with 37 years of service, clearly beat the odds.

A new city manager could be named by the end of the month, the Nevada City City Council is expected to announce today. Robinson, who planned to retire April 30, could stay until his successor moves into the office at City Hall on Broad Street.

“He didn’t last 37 years and not do something right,” said Mayor David McKay.



Born in Mrs. Watson’s sanitarium in Nevada City 661/2 years ago, Robinson left only to attend the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a bachelor’s in business administration in 1957. Robinson returned home to run the family business, a Richfield gas station which was leveled during construction of the Golden Center freeway in the 1960s. Robinson was selected to be city manager in 1965 after a short stint on the city council.

Robinson’s love for Nevada City, his ability to run a city on a small budget, and his skills with people are among his legacies as a city manager.




“Beryl’s real contribution has been his understanding of the community and his real love for Nevada City,” said Paul Matson, a member of the City Council from 1978 to 1998.

When Robinson became city manager, Nevada City was struggling. Its sawmill industry was dying. Storefronts were boarded up.

“The economy was dead,” Robinson recalled. He had to borrow money to meet payroll.

Visionaries in 1968 drafted a historical ordinance to protect downtown’s buildings from destruction, saying the city’s future is its past. The historical ordinance is now widely credited for spurring the city’s tourism industry and saving it from oblivion.

Others may have come up with the concept of historic preservation but Robinson made it a reality, said Vice Mayor Kerry Arnett said. “I don’t think that was an easy feat.”

But Nevada City is Robinson’s hometown, Arnett added. That gave him a little more patience and drive to get things done.

With a $3.9 million budget, the city continues to operate with tight finances.

The city employs 25 people – two more than in 1965. Frills are out. No one ever mentions heating the public swimming pool in Pioneer Park. That would be too expensive, said Verne Taylor, the city’s director of public works.

In spite of a limited tax base, Robinson has managed to complete a series of public works projects: a $925,000, 76-space parking lot on Commercial Street, funded with parking meter change from 20 years; a $2.28 million new bridge on South Pine Street, paid in part with a $1.9 federal grant; a $1.1 million railroad museum, funded in part with a $392,000 grant from the Nevada County Transportation Commission; a $650,000 fire station; and the $2.2 million renovation of City Hall.

“The fact that Beryl works for a small city with limited resources and has completed these projects despite ever increasing and more complicated state and federal requirements is truly amazing,” said Gene Haroldsen, city administrator for Grass Valley.

Bill Falconi, longtime city engineer, said Robinson has a sixth sense for money. “He keeps the budget literally in his head,” he said. “That’s how he’s kept the place together all these years.”

Gene Albaugh, the county administrator from 1979 through 1992, admires Robinson’s ability to get along with people. Robinson helped him on a variety of projects, including keeping the county’s offices, now clustered at the Rood Administrative Center off Highway 49, within Nevada City.

At one point, Albaugh said, he hoped to succeed Robinson as city manager. But at 60 and working for the city of Ione, Albaugh has given up. Instead, he’s writing a book on Robinson’s trials and tribulations as city manager. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful story,” he said.

Robinson estimates he has served under 15 mayors.

County Administrator Ted Gaebler, who has worked in nine jurisdictions in five states in his 40-year career as a public official, said most city managers are mobile professionals.

“It’s kind of comforting to have someone with that longevity,” Gaebler said.

Robinson credits his staff for helping him run the city, including Falconi, the city engineer since the early 1970s and Cathy Wilcox-Barnes, the city clerk, both of whom grew up in Nevada City.

Bob Wyckoff, a longtime resident of Nevada County who has extensively written about the county’s history, is a longtime friend of Robinson’s.

“They’re looking for a replacement for Beryl,” he said. “But no one can replace Beryl.”

Falconi, whose mother went to grammar school in Nevada City with Robinson’s mother, said Robinson cares about the city.

“Those people who are there for the duration, (they) agonize over the problems,” he said.

“It’s the end of an era.”


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