John Van de Kamp 1936-2017

Posted by Pasadena Weekly Staff | Mar 16, 2017

Pasadenan served as Attorney General

John Van de Kamp, one of California’s most revered public servants, has died. He was 81.

Van de Kamp, a former state attorney general and Los Angeles County district attorney, was pronounced dead soon after paramedics arrived at his San Rafael Avenue home in Pasadena at around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, said Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.

Born in Huntington Hospital, raised in Altadena and Pasadena, educated at John Muir High School, then Dartmouth and later Stanford Law School, Van de Kamp was a mainstay in local and state politics.

“John was a statesman in the old fashioned sense. He was committed to the well-being of Pasadena, California and the nation,” said former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. “It will not be easy for those who have worked with John to deal with the many problems in our society without our good counsel.”

Gov. Jerry Brown, who was leaving his first term as governor in 1982 and Van de Kamp was starting out as attorney general,  said Van de Kamp was “a wonderful public servant and had a real sense of justice.”

“John Van de Kamp was one of the most ethical and kind-hearted people I’ve ever met,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “He was an admired public servant who dedicated his life to seeking justice,”

In 1966, Van de Kamp was appointed US Attorney in Los Angeles by President Lyndon Johnson, and later served as LA County District Attorney. 

In 1982, he was elected California Attorney General, a position in which he served for eight years.

In 1990, he ran for the Democratic nomination for governor against now-US Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein ultimately won that race but lost to Republican Pete Wilson.

In the early 2000s, Van de Kamp led the city-appointed Task Force for Good Government, which spent four months revising Measure B. Passed by voters in 2001, Measure B prohibits city officials from taking campaign contributions from those that were awarded public money and other benefits.

Van de Kamp recently served on the board of the West Pasadena Residents Association (WPRA). Association Board President Geoff Baum called Van de Kamp, “a proud Pasadenan and pillar of our community who served our county and state along with decades on the board.”

A staunch opponent of capital punishment, from 2006 to 2008 Van de Kamp headed the state California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which consisted of former law enforcement officials and those opposed to capital punishment. The commission found that the death penalty is a hugely wasteful process, one in which the condemned often died while waiting to be executed.

Van de Kamp fought to end the death penalty, writing the ballot argument in favor of last November’s Proposition 62, which would have replaced capital punishment with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He also helped file a lawsuit to block a counter proposal, Proposition 66, which ultimately prevailed in the balloting. That proposition intends to speed up the death penalty process. In the lawsuit, Van de Kamp and Ron Briggs, whose father wrote the ballot measure that expanded California’s death penalty in 1978, warned that the so-called reform measure would disrupt the courts, cost more money and limit the ability of death penalty inmates to mount proper appeals.

In 2015 Van de Kamp told Pasadena Weekly reporter Justin Chapman that he felt his biggest impact was in establishing the Federal Public Defender’s Office while with the US Attorney’s Office.

“We were able to help real people. People are in trouble, and we helped them to get through this or find a new way of getting on with their lives,” Van de Kamp said.

“As AG, I was probably able to do more good in the long run because you’re operating on a much bigger stage and there is a much bigger variety of things that you can do. I was able to strengthen our law enforcement capacity in terms of forensic improvements. We established a computerized fingerprint system, we developed our crime labs. We got DNA started in California. We were active in the anti-trust world and stopped mergers,” he said.

Chapman and Van de Kamp were members of the WPRA. On Wednesday morning, Chapman called Van de Kamp a “good man who fought the good fight.”

“He and I saw eye to eye on just about every political issue, especially opposition to the death penalty,” Chapman said. “I’m honored to have interviewed him and served with him.”

Van de Kamp’s impact was felt not only in politics. Nearly 50 years ago he purchased properties in East Pasadena and Hawthorne, opening Tionio’s Restaurants at each location. The restaurants did not catch on. However, his neighbor Robin Salzer ended up buying one of those the buildings, which now houses Robin’s Woodfire BBQ on Rosemead Boulevard.

“Without John Van de Kamp there would be no Robin’s on Rosemead,” Salzer told the Weekly.

Van de Kamp is survived by his wife, Andrea, and a daughter, Diana. Friends of the family are invited to an open house from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Van de Kamp’s Pasadena home. Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. on March 30 at St Andrew’s Church, 311 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena.