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Finn Kept to Basics of City Government

VALLEY 200: To commemorate the bicentennial of the San Fernando Mission and the San Fernando Valley, for 200 days we will feature people --some famous, some notorious-- who left their mark on the area.

August 23, 1997|SOLOMON MOORE

He walked his own walk and talked his own talk.

As a Los Angeles city councilman, Howard Finn, with his calm demeanor and gray goatee, was more comfortable talking about arcane zoning issues or city sewage systems than about more general political issues.

Finn, who represented the northeast Valley, left the Democrats to become a Republican and then to become a registered Independent. Generally regarded as an expert in city planning, Finn was a nuts-and-bolts kind of councilman.

He once told The Times that he considered his greatest achievement in office his efforts leading to the establishment of a one-stop building permit processing center.

He lost council races in 1973 and 1977, but after serving as a mayoral appointee to the city's Board of Zoning Appeals for three years--including two years as board president--Finn ran again for council in 1981.

He doggedly attended community meetings and built a strong network of backers.

"People who try to run a slick, grabby campaign out here will be surprised on election day, and my plain talking doesn't hurt because I have roots in this area," Finn said during the campaign.

Apparently Finn, who was a resident of Shadow Hills, was right. He won the election.

Born Sept. 20, 1917, in Holyoke, Mass., Finn moved at 14 with his family to California.

After earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1939, he worked as a statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Economy, studying people's migration to California.

In World War II, Finn worked in Britain as a civilian military intelligence analyst with the Foreign Economics Administration, involved in economic warfare-- which included buying up supplies that the enemy needed.

As a councilman, Finn, who had been a home builder, was heavily involved in land-use and environmental issues, including various controversial proposals to develop the Big Tujunga Wash.

Finn died in office in 1986 after suffering a heart attack during a council Planning and Environment Committee meeting at City Hall.

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