Opinion | California Homeowners Flex Their Political Muscle

Some may roll their eyes at the thought that a coalition of mostly affluent homeowners could qualify as “grass roots,” a term more commonly associated with social justice movements. But they would be wrong: Throughout his four-decade reign, Close and SOHA have consistently out-organized, out-hustled and outmaneuvered their political opponents.

In the 1980s, Close and SOHA joined with dozens of other homeowners’ associations to form the “slow growth” movement in the Valley, which sought to impede construction of new housing, retain single-family zoning and, in many instances, wrest control from the City of Los Angeles or any other meddling municipal officials.

Close, for example, was a main proponent of the 2002 failed attempt of the San Fernando Valley to secede from the rest of Los Angeles, citing, among other reasons, a lack of services proportionate to its tax base. He worked to pass the monumental 1986 Proposition U, which restricted the amount of square footage that could be built on top of a plot of land in Los Angeles and which still places a stranglehold on residential and commercial real estate.

Some SOHA members also played a major part in the failed efforts in the late 1970s to stop the busing of Black students from South Los Angeles to Valley schools. SOHA took no official position in that fight, but individuals who had witnessed its organizing power brought their knowledge to the campaigns, prompting an antibusing Los Angeles Board of Education member to say, “We learned our political p’s and q’s in the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association.”

Close’s network still exists, and it continues to practice the coalition politics that have protected its neighborhoods for the past half century. Though the demographics of the Valley have changed — Latinos now constitute a plurality of the population according to the Census Bureau — SOHA and his network are still active. They still pass around petitions and meet every month to hear from one another.

In 2015, Close and SOHA flexed their muscle in the City Council elections by backing David Ryu in his victory against the candidate endorsed by The Los Angeles Times. The credit, both publicly and privately, was given to Close and SOHA. A scene described in a 2017 article in Los Angeles Magazine shows Close’s influence:

“Ryu is among the few pols in Close’s glow, and he is the featured speaker at the meeting this evening. As the 41-year-old former community health director approaches the stage in the cafeteria, Close bellows, ‘He was not supposed to win the primary; he was supposed to be gone. How many councilmen endorsed you?’ Zero, responds Ryu. ‘How many developer dollars did you take?’ None. ‘So how did you win?’ Ryu gestures to the room. ‘Because of you.’”

Back in 2015, organizations like SOHA could have a significant effect on City Council elections for the very simple reason that odd-year elections, which do not coincide with national and state contests, usually have very low voter turnout. The 2020 election against Raman was the first in years to be held at the same time as a presidential race, which meant SOHA’s bloc of votes would not go as far.

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