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Tax Fighter Howard Jarvis Dies of Blood Disease at 83

August 13, 1986|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Howard Jarvis, whose Proposition 13 produced the most famous taxpayers' revolt since the Boston Tea Party, died Tuesday night at Los Angeles' Midway Hospital. He was 83.

Doctors attributed his death to a blood disease from which he had suffered since 1982. A spokesman said Jarvis was admitted to the hospital Tuesday.

A memorial service will be conducted at 10 a.m. Friday at the North Church at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Hollywood Hills, said Joel Fox of Jarvis' California Tax Reduction Movement.

Proposition 13, on the June, 1978, California ballot, was authored by Jarvis, a retired businessman, and Paul Gann, a retired Sacramento real estate salesman.

Jarvis and Gann were referred to as the odd couple because their personalities were so different: Jarvis was bombastic and intimidating; Gann was quiet-spoken, given to homilies and almost shy.

As the campaign developed, Jarvis' aggressive personality took over and Proposition 13 became known as the Jarvis Initiative. The measure qualified for the ballot with 1.2 million voter signatures, almost three times the number required.

The political climate at the time was ripe for Jarvis' tax-slashing campaign. Voters had become increasingly angry over inflation-prodded increases in real estate values. That, in turn, had produced rocketing property taxes. By election time it was no contest, and Proposition 13 passed by a landslide 65% margin.

Jarvis, who had been dismissed for two decades as a gadfly, suddenly became a national hero. Politicians, including then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., who had opposed Proposition 13, tried to climb aboard Jarvis' tax revolt bandwagon. Journalists clamored for interviews. Jarvis made the cover of Time.

Meanwhile, the impact of the Proposition 13 victory was enormous and far-reaching.

The measure rolled back personal and corporate property taxes by about 57% to about 1% of appraised real estate values. As a result, state coffers were diminished by billions of dollars in property tax revenues and lawmakers were sent scrambling to come up with emergency programs to bail out schools and local governments.

Short, stocky and combative, Jarvis had taken on the California political and business establishments and won resoundingly. He had roared into a power vacuum at a time when neither the governor nor the Legislature could offer the voters a property tax reduction program in time to stave off the Proposition 13 bandwagon.

Public Was Angry

Jarvis, a self-made near-millionaire, a longtime political activist and former newspaper publisher, had rallied a public outcry over what was perceived as politicians' insensitivity to the tax plight of the homeowner.

Opposed by much of California's power Establishment, Jarvis almost single-handedly won the day.

Jarvis' booming voice drew throngs from Eureka to San Diego; his orations were punctuated with earthy language sometimes more suitable to docks than to board rooms.

He was quick to pick up on the public fear and distrust of government. "The general public doesn't believe a damn word of what any politician says," he said while stumping for Proposition 13.

With more energy than many men half his age, Jarvis, then 75, carried that message of double-dealing government up and down the state during a campaign in which he hardly ever took a day off. He loved the rough-and-tumble of a bruising political fight.

Once during the campaign, while being driven across the hot Mojave Desert to a speaking engagement in Palm Springs, Jarvis talked to a reporter about how he worked a big crowd.

'I Really Pour It On'

"When I have three, four, five thousand people, I really pour it on," he said in his gravelly voice. "Like a goddamn Baptist preacher. I tell 'em how government is clobbering them. I rev 'em up. I talk about basic human rights."

Jarvis was quick to admit that playing on the public's fears was one of the trump cards that made Proposition 13 a big winner.

"But mine is a legitimate fear," he said. "Fear of losing property."

Howard Arnold Jarvis was born in the tiny Utah mining town of Mercur, in the hills about 50 miles west of Salt Lake City, on Sept. 22, 1902. About a week later, Jarvis once said, the town burned down and his family moved to another hamlet, Magna, about 10 miles west of Salt Lake City.

In his autobiographical account of Proposition 13, entitled, "I'm Mad As Hell," Jarvis traced his American roots to North Carolina, where his father, James Ransom Jarvis, was born in 1879 and where, he said, Thomas J. Jarvis, "a relative," was governor from 1879 to 1885. His mother, Margaret McKellar, was of Scottish descent and had migrated to Utah with her family from Illinois, he said, meeting his father there.

Jarvis told an interviewer in 1978, "My father and mother were Mormons but I never practiced Mormonism. I was the black sheep."

Brothers Killed in War

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