Berkeley City Planning ‘Giant’ George Williams Dies at 89
By Sam Levin
The Daily Californian
21 November 2017
Photo Courtesy of Williams family
College of Environmental Design guest lecturer, former Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board member, and urban planner George Williams died in his Berkeley home on November 6. He was 89.
“George Williams truly loved planning and vigorously argued for the critical role of planners and planning departments in helping shape cities for the better,” said Williams’ former colleagues at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR, an organization Williams volunteered for and served as a board member. “We were lucky to spend time with him and learn from him.”
Williams was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and graduated from the University of Utah in 1949. He earned his MBA from Stanford in 1951 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1956, after serving in the Army Finance Corps during the Korean War.
Although he moved to San Francisco to practice law, Williams soon found an interest in city planning while representing developers negotiating with the city. Williams launched a successful urban planning career which caught the attention of President Lyndon B. Johnson who asked Williams to move to Washington, D.C. to help draft legislation for the Model Cities Program.
Williams eventually returned to San Francisco where he co-founded the San Francisco Friends of the Urban Forest, which aimed to plant trees within the city. He also served as the deputy director of the San Francisco Department of City Planning. He remained in this position for 20 years and was the principal author of the San Francisco Downtown Plan, which forever shaped the growth of the city’s center.
After retiring from San Francisco’s planning department, Williams became a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development, where he helped local governments grow and mature from posts in Jamaica, Slovakia and Kazakhstan.
Williams moved to Berkeley in 1999 to work for the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board and to lecture at CED.
“I appreciated his sensitivity,” said Deborah Matthews, who served on the Zoning Adjustment Board with Williams. “He was a very energetic voice for street beautification, so that all of the residents of Berkeley could enjoy the final results of the work that we did.”