Warren Harada wasn’t an engineer, but for more than three decades he played a key role in developing and maintaining Sacramento County’s public infrastructure and facilities.
Harada went to work for Sacramento County in 1968 as a computer programmer and retired in 2003 as administrator of its giant Public Works Agency. He helped lay the groundwork for many of the county’s residential and commercial developments, while overseeing road repairs and transportation improvements. He also was known to get behind the wheel of a pickup truck to check out potholes on rural roads, said county Supervisor Don Nottoli.
Harada died July 16 in Sacramento at age 72. He had cancer and had chosen to stop dialysis, said his son, Matthew Harada.
Family, friends and colleagues described Warren Harada as man with a great sense of humor who enjoyed people and delighted in solving problems. “If he didn’t know the answer, he knew where to get the answer,” said his son.
“He was the epitome of a public servant, and he believed that’s what he was – no more and no less,” said Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, owner of AKT Development, who had occasion to work with Harada on many of his firm’s major projects, including those in Laguna and Laguna West.
“He would help us find solutions,” Tsakopoulos said.
Harada would ask developers what they wanted to accomplish, then help figure out how to do it in a way that served the developer and the public, he said.
Harada had a degree in business administration from UC Berkeley, and he understood the financing components that went into putting together a project, Nottoli said, but he also had the ability to explain it to the Board of Supervisors and a sometimes skeptical public.
He briefed the supervisors on county projects at their weekly meetings.
“He would bring a level of confidence to the conversation,” Nottoli said. “He was a good listener, but he also could speak with confidence and clarity in a way that was understandable.”
Matthew Harada said his father was particularly proud of the widening of the Watt Avenue bridge over the American River. The $17 million project, completed in 2002, added a vehicle lane in each direction, as well as roomier walkways on each side, stylized lampposts, a quieter surface and more than $1 million in artwork.
The project was controversial, Nottoli recalled, with area residents concerned about increased traffic and impacts on the American River Parkway. Harada had occasion to put his people skills to work during the many long hearings that led up to approval of the project.
“He always had the public’s interest at heart,” Nottoli said.
Warren Haygen Harada was born Sept. 13, 1943, in Denver. His parents, like others of Japanese descent, were interned during World War II and his mother, Matsuey Harada, was sent to Denver to give birth to her son. Warren’s father, Masa Atsu Harada, was a doctor.
Warren Harada’s grandfather, Jukichi Harada, won an important civil rights case, said Matthew Harada. Aware of the 1913 California Alien Land Law that prohibited aliens from owning property, Jukichi Harada in December 1915 purchased a house in the names of his three American-born children. The purchase was challenged in court, but he prevailed. The Harada House in Riverside, in Southern California, is now a National Historic Landmark. A book, “The House on Lemon Street: Japanese Pioneers and the American Dream,” recounts the family’s experience and legal battle.
After the war, the Harada family moved to Sacramento, where Warren grew up attending El Dorado and Phoebe Hearst elementary schools, Kit Carson Junior High and Sacramento High School.
Jerry Bergen said he and Warren Harada had been friends since kindergarten, when they walked to school together with their mothers on the first day. Since 1974, Bergen said, the two men have had a tradition of getting together for lunch the day before Christmas, then heading downtown together to buy last-minute gifts. They also were two of about a dozen men, all Sacramento High classmates, who have gathered about four times a year for lunch.
Bergen recalled that as a kid, Harada started taking piano lessons but also wanted to play Little League. His mother told him he would have to choose one or the other, and Harada chose Little League.
“He probably should have chosen the piano,” Bergen said, recalling that Harada was a small guy and didn’t excel at baseball, although as adults the two men often went to watch professional baseball’s spring training in Arizona.
Golf proved to be Harada’s sport. He was a member of the Nisei Golf Cub and the Valley Hi Country Club, where he served on the board of directors and as president of the board.
“Golf was always his vice,” said Dave “Bing” Bingham, retired head golf pro at the Valley Hi club. “He loved to buy new clubs, and he was a Golf Channel junkie. He was a good player.”
Matthew Harada said his father kept meticulous notes on every golf lesson he had taken over several decades.
Bingham recalled that one of the highlights for Warren Harada was winning Valley Hi Country Club’s men’s invitational tournament with his partner in 1999.
In retirement, Harada also served as the country club’s interim general manager for about a year, Bingham said.
Harada is survived by his wife of 47 years, Patricia Harada, of Sacramento. In addition to son Matthew of Elk Grove, he leaves a daughter, Lisa Poon, of Sacramento, and two granddaughters.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church, 6929 Franklin Blvd., in Sacramento. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Asian Community Center Senior Services, 7334 Park City Drive, Sacramento, CA 95831.