Dan Gorfain was lauded by friends and colleagues as a modest man who worked steadfastly for causes he believed in, whether it meant wading into controversial land-use issues or promoting civil discussion about religion and politics.
A longtime public trails advocate, patron of the arts and leader in Sacramento’s Jewish community, Gorfain died of cancer Nov. 20, just days after the Sacramento City Council voted to name a 2-mile section of the Sacramento River Parkway in his honor. He was 75.
“Dan Gorfain is a treasure to the Jewish community of Sacramento, and Dan Gorfain is a treasure to all of Sacramento,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said during a Nov. 14 council presentation honoring Gorfain, who was too ill to attend but was watching the meeting on television with his family. “For he has always said yes to any request to be helpful and to improve the community that he and his wife, Joan, love.”
Gorfain spent more than two decades working with former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin on what was initially dubbed the Sacramento River Greenway. The project envisioned trails on both the Sacramento and Yolo County sides of the Sacramento River, said Jim Houpt, who worked with Gorfain in recent years as a fellow member of the Friends of the Sacramento River Parkway.
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Gorfain first worked on the project professionally in the early 1990s as a principal planner with the California State Lands Commission and continued as a volunteer following his retirement.
The project has been controversial because some property owners along the river have installed fences on the levee and oppose efforts to create a trail through what they consider to be their property. Only in recent years have City Council members joined the push to secure the property necessary to build the trail, Houpt said.
The council earlier this year appropriated $2.3 million to acquire easements, he said.
Because of the opposition, many people who were involved in the greenway project fell by the wayside over the years. “They thought it was a lost cause,” Houpt said.
But Gorfain and Rudin continued the fight. When efforts were renewed a few years ago, “they had that institutional knowledge that was invaluable to those of us who came later,” Houpt said.
Part of the Great California Delta Trail, planned to link Sacramento and San Francisco, the Sacramento portion extends from Discovery Park to Freeport Boulevard. The City Council renamed the section between the Conlin Youth Sports Complex Park and Garcia Bend Park in the city’s Pocket area the “Dan Gorfain Trail.”
The things he did that were quite impressive, I heard from others, not from him.
Rabbi Mona Alfi
A native of Israel, Gorfain was born Aug. 15, 1942, in Tel Aviv to Solomon and Rachel Gorfain. As a high school student, he went to London to study and lived with relatives, said his son, Eric Gorfain.
He came to California in the early 1960s when he was accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles. His parents and younger brother, Joseph, came to the Untied States about two years later, although Joseph eventually returned to Israel to live, Eric Gorfain said.
A civil engineer with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, Dan Gorfain went to work for the California Coastal Commission. He moved to Sacramento in 1978 to take a job with the State Lands Commission, and the family settled in the Greenhaven-Pocket area.
Eric Gorfain said his father became an avid bicyclist, which helped spur his interest in trails. He and a group of fellow cyclists took extended trips, including a bike tour of western Canada and New Zealand.
Dan Gorfain also had a love for the arts and had studied the violin as a child.
“When I was 4 years old, he told me I would play the violin,” Eric Gorfain said, recalling that his father would help him practice. The younger Gorfain became a professional violinist and works as a studio musician in Los Angeles.
Father and son connected through music. “He was an engineer in his head, but in his heart, he was a musician,” Eric Gorfain said.
Dan Gorfain became a patron of the Sacramento Youth Symphony as well as the Sacramento area’s visual and theater arts, and served on the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.
Eric Gorfain said the Sacramento Youth Symphony has established a memorial scholarship in his father’s name.
Gorfain was a member of Sacramento’s Congregation B’nai Israel, where he served in various leadership roles, including president of the congregation in the 1980s and as leader of the religious school.
In 2013, he helped found the Israel Civil Voice Alliance, known as TICVA, to promote civil discourse about Israel among the Sacramento region’s diverse Jewish community.
The ability to listen and to engage unemotionally in discussion made Gorfain an effective advocate for the causes he held dear, said Houpt.
“Dan was a very mild-mannered, easy-going guy. He was not the kind of person who was going to argue vociferously for his point of view,” Houpt said, adding that it was his steadfast, patient, non-emotional demeanor that proved persuasive.
Gorfain is survived by Joan Gorfain, his wife of 50 years, son Eric Gorfain of Los Angeles, daughter Nina Farabee of Foster City and three grandchildren.
A service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Congregation B’nai Israel, 3600 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento.