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Beverly Hills' Thirst for Autonomy Saves the Day

January 30, 1994

Unlike many of their Los Angeles neighbors, Beverly Hills residents didn't have to boil water after the Jan. 17 earthquake.

They ought to raise a glass of the stuff to Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. In the spring of 1923, Fairbanks and Pickford were among a small group of movie luminaries who fought the proposed annexation of Beverly Hills by Los Angeles.

The issue was water.

As many top stars moved to Beverly Hills in the early 1920s, the city experienced a growth spurt--and private water wells then serving the city could not keep up with demand. The owner of the wells was anxious to turn the problem over to Los Angeles.

Many of the city's real estate agents supported annexation, fearing the area might otherwise stagnate. A petition drive put the matter up for a public vote.

The pro-annexation campaign used a precursor of today's direct mail attacks by leaving milk bottles filled with foul-smelling sulfur-laden water at every doorstep, labeled: "This is a sample of the water which the Trustees of the City of Beverly Hills propose for our city. Drink sparingly, as it has laxative qualities."

But the anti-annexation campaign responded with celebrity power. Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Tom Mix, Conrad Nagle, Mary Pickford, Will Rogers and Rudolph Valentino--all Beverly Hills residents--made their way through city streets exchanging autographed glossy photos for pledges of "no" votes.

The annexation proposal lost by a vote of 507-337, and Beverly Hills set up its own water system.

Flash-forward 70 years: Beverly Hills, though now a customer of the Metropolitan Water District, remains free of Los Angeles' water system. That's the one that failed in the quake--and made water-boiling a must for many Westsiders.


HELL FREEZES OVER: Even Santa Monica's come-hell-or-high-water parking ticket operation collapsed in the earthquake.

Because some private and commercial parking garages have been closed off because of safety concerns, the city that loves to catch you with the red flag flying did not issue parking tickets all week.

The reprieve could continue for a day or a month, but Santa Monica Police Sgt. Gary Gallinot promised to let the public know when the Parking Monster returns.


HOMELESS HOMELESS SHELTER: The plight of the homeless is bad enough. Now, an entire homeless housing complex is homeless.

The problem, small surprise, was the earthquake. The temblor cracked a Santa Monica church that housed the Turning Point transitional shelter, operated by the Ocean Park Community Center. Residents of the shelter have been staying temporarily at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. But checkout time was scheduled for today.

Vivian Rothstein, Ocean Park's director, is frantically looking for new temporary quarters for the shelter, which is slated to get a new building within the next eight to 12 months. If you have any ideas, call the Ocean Park Community Center at (310) 399-9232 or (310) 453-6739.


COMMUTER MARKET: With the Santa Monica Freeway severed, Beverly Hills City Manager Mark Scott promised Tuesday that the city would help ease traffic snarls for commuters using local thoroughfares on their way to and from Downtown L.A.

But then Scott's local business (and tax revenue?) instincts got the better of him. He couldn't help adding: "And we hope they'll stop and shop."

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