Lillian Kawasaki
Lillian Kawasaki

LONG BEACH - Lillian Kawasaki, who lost last year's most competitive council race in the 8th District, died Thursday from breast cancer.

Kawasaki, an elected director of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, had battled the cancer for slightly over two years. She was 62.

Kawasaki had been free of the ailment at the time of the council race, but she suffered a relapse about a month following the April 2012 election.

Born Sept. 17, 1950, in Denver, Colo., Kawasaki graduated in 1967 from Baldwin Park High School, and later earned a bachelor's and master's degrees from Cal State Los Angeles.

She met her future husband, Craig Carter, in graduate school.

Kawasaki had a 34-year career with the city of Los Angeles as assistant general manager for the Department of Water and Power, then became the general manager of the new Environmental Affairs Department -- the first woman to reach that rank in the city's history -- followed by the job as general manager of the Community Development Department.

"She had raw administrative skills," said Carter. "She had a passion for public service."

During her leisure time, she loved surfing, and she competed in Huntington Beach, winning several trophies in her late teens and early 20s. She also enjoyed traveling and snow skiing.

Kawasaki's passion for public service led to her election as director of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, where she was active for the past six years.

WRD Board President Rob Katherman credited Kawasaki with making "an indelible imprint on district policies and programs."

She enjoyed a statewide reputation as an expert on the nexus between water and energy, the importance of storm water capture for beneficial use, and the relationship between water supply in Southern California and ecosystem restoration in the Bay-Delta.

"Personally, of course, Lillian was a force of nature, continually effervescent, always cheerful, always on the run, always interested in what she could to help others," Katherman said.

Last month, the WRD Board named the extensive native landscaping at its headquarters the Lillian Kawasaki Educational Urban Landscape Demonstration Site. The Eco Gardener Program was renamed the Lillian Kawasaki ECO Gardener Program.

Kawasaki's passion for public service also led to last year's competitive council race for the 8th District seat, pitting her against labor representative Al Austin.

Kawasaki had a strong list of elected officials as supporters, including Mayor Bob Foster, former Mayor Beverly O'Neill, then-state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe. Gary DeLong, the 3rd District councilman, donated to Kawasaki's campaign.

She was endorsed by the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Club and the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, among others.

At the time, Kawasaki said her list shows her ability to connect with a diverse group of community stakeholders, which she believed was needed to make well-informed decisions.

Shortly after losing the race, she received the grim cancer diagnosis.

In addition to her husband, Kawasaki is survived by a sister, Nancy Kawasaki of Chicago, Ill.; a brother, Glenn Kawasaki of Seattle, Wash.; and father Toshio Kawasaki of Monterey Park.

joe.segura@presstelegram.com

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