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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

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Debra Greenfield (’71) Debra Greenfield (’71)

Gift Creates Opportunities for Future San Diego Leaders

Debra Greenfield's scholarship and internship endowments will support public affairs majors.
By Coleen L. Geraghty

“We took some really big leaps forward in terms of transforming San Diego into a more recognized urban area.”

Before San Diego was the thriving metropolis it is today, Debra Greenfield (’71) and her colleagues imagined its potential. They saw an inadequate public transportation system and envisioned the trolley and the Coaster. They saw land ripe for development and imagined smart, planned growth.

As general counsel for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), Greenfield had her finger on the pulse of San Diego’s development for nearly 30 years. She joined the consortium in 1975, soon after its creation as the Comprehensive Planning Organization (CPO).

“I enjoyed a wonderful career, and it all began with my experiences and relationships at San Diego State University,” Greenfield said.

Recently, Greenfield created the Debra A. Greenfield Endowed Scholarship for Public Affairs and the Debra A. Greenfield School of Public Affairs Endowed Internship Scholarship.

“Like SDSU, Debra has played an important role in the development of San Diego,” said Mary Ruth Carleton, vice president for University Relations and Development. “We are so grateful for her support of the region’s future leaders.”

From pre-med to politics

While she started at SDSU with a pre-med focus, Greenfield soon found her interests shifting to political science and government. She switched her major to public administration and secured an internship in the Chula Vista city manager’s office where she said they allowed her to take on “meaningful and responsible projects.”

Law school followed Greenfield's graduation from SDSU, as did another career-making internship—this time working with County Supervisor Jack Walsh on an open space plan for San Diego’s unincorporated areas. By the time Greenfield passed the bar exam, she was well-versed in the complexities of regional government.  

After a short stint in the Vista city attorney’s office, Greenfield became general counsel and director of legislative affairs at the association that would morph into SANDAG. She had a part in developing the Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS), a national model; working with the Navy to replenish sand on local beaches; and establishing the San Dieguito River Park.

“We took some really big leaps forward in terms of transforming San Diego into a more recognized urban area,” Greenfield said. “As we were coping with the development of the region, we worked to preserve San Diego’s identity with a viable growth management plan.”

Providing opportunities

During her years with SANDAG, Greenfield also preserved ties with SDSU. She was an instructor in land use and environmental law and a mentor to many SDSU interns. Those ties have only strengthened during her retirement. Greenfield is a member of the Public Affairs Task Force for the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, which acts as liaison between the university and the public sector.

She also trains law school interns in San Diego to work with families establishing legal guardianships for children. In 2015, the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program recognized Greenfield as Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. This work—combined with her gift to SDSU—is Greenfield’s way of ensuring that future generations benefit from the kinds of opportunities she received throughout her education.  

“Students majoring in public administration and city planning have such worthy goals,” Greenfield said. “They want to help their communities. It would be a shame if lack of financial resources prevented these students from pursuing their dreams or taking unpaid internships. I want to give current students the opportunity to have the kind of rewarding career that I enjoyed.”