By DANIEL TAUB
A recurring theme in Greg Nelson's day involves snacks buying them, eating them, sharing them, finding a place to store them. Cookies play a particularly important role.
Just before 10 a.m., Nelson, his wild blond curls a little more contained than usual, walks briskly (he doesn't walk any other way) into his cubicle on the fourth floor of City Hall East. He plops down on his desk a just-purchased brown bag bulging with chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and ginger treats.
The bag goes untouched as Nelson, the chief of staff to Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, checks his voicemail, turns on a television to a channel showing the council's Friday-morning meeting, and looks over memos and agendas.
Finally, Nelson can no longer resist.
"Are we going to eat these cookies?" he asks his guest. "Or are we going to sit here and look at them?"
He reaches across the desk, opens the bag, searches for a chocolate chip number and starts munching.
Nelson is not your typical City Hall aide. For one thing, he's been around awhile (almost nonstop since he was a student volunteer for Sam Yorty's 1965 mayoral campaign). In fact, he seems to be around all the time; in the last 11 years, he has taken just 10 vacation days.
He's also something of a character and it's not limited to eating cookies. The greetings on his office voicemail are a particular favorite; in one recent message, a woman's sultry voice noted that Nelson wasn't in and cooed "I feeeeel your pain."
Nelson, who went to work for Wachs in 1971 (and except for a four-year stint as a computer consultant has been with the councilman ever since), starts the morning by scanning the dailies, clipping out stories and putting them in file trays labeled "Barzu," "Mrs. Rocky," "Rachel's Mommy" and "Sir Rupert Pimm" all nicknames for Wachs' top aides.
It doesn't take long before he starts talking about a favorite subject of both Nelson and Wachs government subsidies for real estate developers. On the council's agenda today is a subsidy for TrizecHahn Corp.'s Hollywood & Highland project.
"At some point, you got to say stop it," Nelson says of such subsidies. "And that's a hard thing to do."
Moments later, the wiry 6-foot, 2-inch Nelson is rushing down a flight of stairs to council chambers to check on his boss. He gets there right before a short ceremony honoring retiring City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie.
As each of the council members say their good-byes, Nelson tries to think of something humorous for his boss to say about the staid administrator. He eventually comes up with, "We were looking for your replacement, and the best we could come up with so far was Dennis Rodman." He jots it down but is too slow getting it to Wachs, who already is giving a short, joke-free speech.
After the ceremony, Nelson chases after Comrie to say goodbye and ask for any leftovers from his office refrigerator.
"We have cookies at 2 o'clock, if you want to come," Comrie offers.
"Cookies! Cookies!" Nelson shouts, as the soft-spoken Comrie and his family make their way to the exit of the council chamber anteroom. "Are they peanut butter?"
Later, back in his cubicle, Nelson waits for the council to get around to discussing the TrizecHahn project. A ceremony honoring the city's "Pioneer Women" who have been active in their communities is droning on TV. Picking up on a speaker talking about a woman who has worked with "the adults of our community," Nelson asks, "The dolts of our community? Or the adults? Is that what she said?"
Paul Michael Neuman, one of Wachs' aides, stops in with a press release about the opening of a new library in the councilman's district. Nelson reads it over. "We're going to open Panorama City's marvelous new library," Nelson reads dramatically.
Finally, after 1 p.m., the council gets around to discussing the issuance of $92 million in bonds for the TrizecHahn project. Under the measure, the city would provide money to the developer to help build a theater and parking structure and make other improvements. The city would recoup the money through increased taxes generated by the improved property and by the operation of the center.
Nelson leans back in his chair and watches the television as Wachs decries subsidies for the project, comparing the situation to the Staples Center, in which Wachs convinced council members to require the arena's developers to guarantee that they would repay city funds being paid out up front.
The council members enter their votes and as Nelson had predicted it's 9-2 in favor of the bonds, with only Wachs and Councilwoman Rita Walters dissenting.
Nelson, reaching for another cookie, points out that he unlike many council chiefs of staff has spent little time with his boss during the meeting. He says his work with Wachs was done before the meeting started.
"I don't really have to be down sitting next to him all the time listening to all that stuff," Nelson says. "I have no tolerance for wasted time, and wasted energy, and wasted talent. We're on this Earth for such a short time. Joel's like that too. I don't think I get it from him. I think we developed it independently."
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