Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, April 7, 1960
April 7, 2010 | 2:07 pm
S. Smith Griswold's Finest Hour at Hand
The man's name: S. (for Sam) Smith Griswold.
He's 51 years old, married, father of two, and -- by his own admission -- a descendant of Aaron Burr.
This last fact, I'm sure, weighs significantly in the minds of many.
Griswold currently holds down a $23,028-a-year appointive position as director of our Air Pollution Control District. I stress the word appointive.
In the community it's axiomatic that if you're against smog, you're against Griswold. So he isn't a man likely to win elections.
In spite of such political attributes as a thick shock of blond hair and kind face, Griswold is just plain unpopular.
For years, he's been the target of a rare display of public disfavor, behind which lies an interesting story.
| In 1933, shortly after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford, he began his career as a public servant in our county government.|
He worked his way up to budget director and -- after a lengthy leave during World War II, during which time he served as a naval officer -- he climbed the Civil Service ladder to a rung labeled "assistant administrative officer in charge of special studies," or something to that effect.
But then a police action started in Korea and Griswold's career suffered another rude interruption. He was called back to active duty to serve as commander of the hospital ship Repose.
When he got back into the county line-up, he was no longer a fair-haired boy. There had been promotions in his absence, plus some jockeying for position.
Finally a spot was found for him. He became sort of a trouble-shooter, with one of his first assignments being to come up with a blueprint to tidy up our county prison system.
This, he accomplished (although the results aren't too evident today) with his expected efficiency.
Then in '54, everybody from the grand jury to the governor's office was investigating the Air Pollution Control District -- so Griswold was given the assignment of sticking his nose into it.
Shortly after this it was decided that he was the man to tackle the impossible job of running the APCD. Insiders didn't question the choice as being an excellent one. They were just sorry that such a dynamic young man was being derailed -- tossed to the wolf pack.
Nobody -- not even Griswold -- they predicted, could survive as APCD boss for more than a year.
But Griswold fooled them. He decided what had to be done, outlined a plan of action, put his back to the wall, and waited for the rotten tomatoes.
He ducked and he dodged and he pleaded and recited facts and demanded.
To accomplish what had to be done, he had to step on everybody's toes. Industrialists lined up to collect his scalp. Politicians used him as their favorite whipping boy.
Our Sam Came Through
Slowly -- not as fast as he would have liked -- he overcame each objection, each legal obstacle deliberately thrown in his path. He stretched the patience of every emissary of powerful private interests to a thread, but never lost his own.
A smaller man would have succumbed to the abuse long ago.
But Griswold didn't. And as a result, he scored his final major victory this week, when statewide legislation on vehicle-caused air pollution passed through the Senate and Assembly in Sacramento.
Our legislators, of course, will claim the credit, just as our county supervisors did on Rule 62 last year. But the plain truth is Griswold has been fighting for this week's legislation for five years.
Without his determination it wouldn't have happened for another five.
I, for one, thank him.