As part of the City’s 40th Anniversary, we interviewed a number of Irvine’s earliest residents and decision-makers. We have posted those compelling stories on this page. Enjoy.
Q&A: Bill Woollett - First Irvine City Manager
Irvine’s first-ever City Manager, Bill Woollett, may hold the record as founding administrator for California cities. He has served as the first City Manager a total of four times—Irvine was his third when he was hired in January 1972. Woollett, now 82, lives near the Irvine Civic Center with his wife of 11 years, Betty Jo. Tey have two children each from previous marriages and eight grandchildren.
Woollett was raised in Los Angeles, completed his undergraduate work at Occidental College and his master’s program at Cal State Los Angeles. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he returned stateside to serve as City Manager for several municipalities and then as Vice President/General Manager for Hollister Ranch before coming to Irvine, where he served until October 1989. In 1990, he became CEO of Orange County’s Transportation Corridor Agencies and was founding City Manager of Aliso Viejo in 2001. Irvine’s competitive pool complex is named for him—William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center.
Q: What brought you to Irvine and why take another job to help grow a new city?
A: The Mayor (William Fischbach) called. It is a very unusual opportunity to start from scratch with nothing and create something that will last forever.
Q: Describe the beauty of the Irvine Ranch when you arrived.
A: It was like having a chalkboard with several colors. It was pristine and you had a chance to grow with it. Most people wouldn’t take that job.
Q: Was there a manual out there for creating a new city?
A: No manual. What you do have is a set of significant issues that the City Council is required to resolve and instant new responsibilities: fire department, police department, zoning, tax collecting, parks and recreation, etc. The new City Council, individually and collectively, was responsible for the people and property that had just become a city.
Q: Were there a lot of volunteers who helped shape the early years?
A: Yes. Without them, we never would have gotten this started quickly. We had no city hall, no city staff, and one telephone. We didn’t even have a post office or a library. We had people who volunteered as City Treasurer and City Clerk. We encouraged volunteers to meet on their own and develop a position for the City.
Q: What was a favorite achievement?
A: It’s the villages as they were created. Excellent idea; difficult to do. And, they worked out. Plus, the Irvine Company had a long-term interest in the land, as we did. That was an unusual circumstance.
Are you a multi-generational Irvine resident? Tell us your story by writing to email@example.com.
Mary Ann Gaido
The Russell and Peggy Frank Family