Gilbert F. Ivey was an aimless 17-year Centennial High School teenager from Compton more than 43 years ago when he was appointed to a trainee position in the Metropolitan Water District’s Engineer Division.
Compton Mayor Doris A. Davis, the first African-American woman mayor of a metropolitan city in the United States, was instrumental in encouraging the Water District to train more Blacks.
Ivey was among five teen groups that forged the integration of the Caucasian dominated Metropolitan Water District, a consortium of 26 cities and water districts that provides drinking water to nearly 19 million people in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
“There were two or three other Blacks total when I got here,” Ivey explained to the Sentinel.
Ivey extended his hand to those in upper management and ask if they would mentor him and with that forged a level of diversity that has expanded throughout the district.
He is kind of like the ‘Jackie Robinson’ of the Metropolitan Water District; Ivey was the man who broke the color barrier and, like the baseball icon, he was the perfect person to do so.
Ivey had once told his dad that he didn’t want to work at the district because he didn’t like the environment.
“I told my dad that this wasn’t a good place, but he forcefully demanded that I stay. He told me that I had an enormous responsibility and greater challenges ahead of me and that I represent a group of people and I need to help open some doors,” Ivey said.
Ivey has since held various positions in Finance, Right-of-Way and Land, Operations, Human Resources and Executive Offices.
He has been trusted to negotiate several major transactions for Metropolitan Water District such as the former headquarters at California Plaza, sale of the former Sunset Boulevard headquarters and its Bolsa Chica property.
Moreover, as part of managing Metropolitan’s 190,000 acres of property, he often works closely with Native American tribes. He has also served as the General Manager’s Chief Labor Negotiator for the current historic five-year Memorandum of Understanding which involved concurrent negotiations with AFSCME Local 1902 and the four other bargaining units and under-represented employees.
Ivey will be retiring from his final position as the Assistant General Manager/Chief Administrative Officer of The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in June.
It has been one glorious journey from the bellows of smoke that filled the skies during the tumultuous 1965-Watts Riots to a spacious corner office overlooking downtown Los Angeles.
He has many people to thank for that and among them was former Mayor Tom Bradley.
“Mayor Bradley played a big role in opening the doors to diversity here at Metropolitan. He worked with the national organization of women and he appointed the first Black to the board at that time,” explained Ivey.
His goal from the very beginning was to always be the best he could be.
“If I was going to be a street sweeper, I was going to be the best. I have always aimed to be top dog at what I was going to be.”
Today there are less than 200 Blacks of the 1,800 employees at the Metropolitan Water District.
A far cry from the single digit numbers when Ivey began, but not the complete progress that’s been desired.
Ivey implemented the Black Employees Association.
“It was necessary to create that organization for the protection and uplifting for the African Americans on the workforce her during the 1980s and it’s still in existence today,” he added.
The Black Employees organization inspired other organizations such as the Latino Organization and the Women’s Organization.
The climate at the Metropolitan Water District is one of harmonic diversity today with talented men and women of all ethnic groups working together to continue to manage and navigate the region through its most difficult crisis in decades.
As it moves forward, it will do so without one of its most gifted and reliable talents as Gilbert F. Ivey closes one chapter and begins another.
Ivey was born in Oceanside and raised in Compton. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from California State University and also has earned several professional designations and certifications in management from Pepperdine University, the University of Southern California, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Married with two accomplished adult sons and a couple of grandsons, Ivey who now lives in Laverne plans to lecture about his vast experiences and offer consulting services.
He is closing one door and opening another to yet another wonderful world of opportunities.