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Marvin Braude, 85; L.A. Councilman Fought to Preserve the Santa Monicas

December 09, 2005|Steve Hymon and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

Former Westside Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude -- the protector of open space in the Santa Monica Mountains, the father of the city's ban on smoking in public places and an avid cyclist who helped build the Venice Beach bike path -- died Wednesday of pneumonia. He was 85.

Braude was hospitalized at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage over Thanksgiving weekend after breaking his leg in a fall. He contracted pneumonia while in the hospital and died there.

Braude, who served on the council from 1965 until 1997, was among the giants of City Hall, along with Councilmen Ernani Bernardi, Arthur Snyder and Hal Bernson, and the late Gilbert Lindsay and John Ferraro, in the era before term limits shuffled the deck on the council.

"He really is one of the last remaining legacy councilmen," said Cindy Miscikowski, a former Westside councilwoman who was a longtime Braude staffer before she succeeded him. "We can look up anywhere in the city and see a mountain that's undeveloped because of him. Things we take for granted today, he took many years to accomplish -- he let society catch up with him."

"Throughout his life, he advocated for the people of Los Angeles with vision, clarity, wisdom and results," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement Thursday.

Braude, who was not known for being a natural politician, has been described over the years as professorial, cranky and wonkish.

He was also the kind of politician who never forgot a name or face.

He was tenacious and unafraid to fight the same battle over and over again. In 1970, he proposed a moratorium to stem the proliferation of billboards in the city.

By 1982, despite heavy lobbying from the billboard industry, he managed to cobble together four votes -- far short of a majority.

In 1987 he had seven votes, which still wasn't enough. "Tremendous progress" was how he described the increase in support at the time.

Though it was a battle he never won, it spoke volumes about the painstaking way Braude built support for his proposals.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who served with Braude for 19 years on the City Council and considered him a mentor, described Braude as a civil servant who was ahead of his time.

"He was a leader of great integrity, of uncompromising principle, in a political era when both of those are too often lacking," Yaroslavsky said.

Braude could be abrupt and cantankerous, especially with those who stood in his way.

Yaroslavsky said they were not very close when they first met.

However, the two became friends and joined forces in 1986 in pushing Proposition U, which restricted commercial development in 75% of the city, and collaborated again in 1988 on securing victory for Proposition O, a city measure that blocked oil drilling along the coast, including a project in Pacific Palisades.

Braude had been trying to stop Occidental Petroleum Corp. from drilling since 1970.

His battles against smoking were just as epic.

Braude had quit smoking in his 20s and became increasingly agitated at those who puffed in public places, imposing their smoke on others.

Some acquaintances believe his impetus may have been an incident in which Braude had been grocery shopping and had grown frustrated with someone lighting up in the produce section.

In 1973, Braude first suggested a smoking ban.

He worked patiently, eventually winning bans on smoking in elevators, city offices and markets. He followed with a measure setting aside no-smoking areas in restaurants.

Finally, in 1993, Braude won council approval of a law that completely banned smoking from the city's 7,000 restaurants, making Los Angeles the largest city in the nation to take that step.

"He was," said Miscikowski, "an incrementalist."

Braude was born in Chicago and in 1948 married his wife, Marjorie.

"My parents went to Yosemite on their honeymoon, and they fell in love with the mountains of California and decided to move here," his daughter, Ann Braude, said.

"He devoted his life to saving the Santa Monica Mountains."

The Braudes moved west in 1951 and settled on Gretna Green Way in Brentwood, later buying a home nearby.

Braude owned a small investment firm and set his mind to saving the open space that remained in the Santa Monicas.

By 1965, he had made enough money to run for public office, at a time when City Council salaries were still meager.

In a field of three, at the age of 44, Braude toppled incumbent Karl Rundberg and subsequently won reelection seven times.

He ran unopposed in four elections.

When he took office, the fate of much of the mountains was hardly decided. There was a trio of large state parks -- Topanga, Malibu Creek and Point Mugu -- but much of the land was zoned for dense subdivisions.

Braude pushed for more land acquisitions by government and to tighten zoning laws to reduce the footprint of developments.

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