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Charles Navarro, 101; Former L.A. City Councilman and Controller

September 09, 2005|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Charles Navarro, a former Los Angeles city councilman and controller who served under four mayors, died Wednesday of natural causes at his Park La Brea home. He was 101.

Navarro, a dapper former musician, entered politics in 1951 when he was elected to the City Council as the representative for the 10th district, which then encompassed an area west of downtown.

He served on the council for 10 years before vacating his seat to run for controller in 1961. He was reelected three times, facing little or no opposition, before retiring in 1977.

Only the city's third controller in 50 years, he performed his duties as Los Angeles' chief accountant in a low-key manner that suited what had long been seen as the least-glamorous office in municipal politics.

The candidates who vied to replace him in 1977 outlined a more aggressive role for the controller. His successor, Ira Reiner, used it as a springboard to the district attorney's office.

But Navarro, defending his own performance, suggested it was misguided to inflate the job beyond its outlines in the City Charter. "The job is paying the bills, making sure everybody gets paid, and making sure the city is in sound financial shape. Bookkeeping, bookkeeping and more bookkeeping," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1977.

He took credit for modernizing procedures by introducing a computerized accounting system. He also initiated money-saving changes, such as including reimbursements in employees' paychecks instead of issuing separate checks. He took pride in the city's AAA bond rating, which he called "the envy of many Eastern cities" in 1976, when he announced his decision not to seek a fifth term.

His decision came two years after a scandal in which city treasury checks were stolen from his office. Navarro was criticized for failing to notify authorities of the theft until a forged check for $902,125 was discovered by a city computer. At least four people were convicted of the crime.

Navarro maintained that the scandal had nothing to do with his decision to retire. He said the main reason was a desire to relax after 25 years at City Hall, during which he had served under four mayors, from Fletcher Bowron to Tom Bradley.

A native of New York City, he moved to Los Angeles when he was 19 to pursue a career as a professional musician. A self-taught guitarist who also played banjo, he worked for Paramount and Universal studios and performed with such stars as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Xavier Cugat and Desi Arnaz.

In retirement, he oversaw his personal investments and enjoyed dining at his favorite Westside steakhouses -- particularly Lawry's, where he was a regular for 67 years. At 100-plus he was walking without a cane, driving his Cadillac and going to church every Sunday.

"He never took an aspirin in his life," said his wife, the former Seda Stevens. "He was in excellent health. He simply got tired and that was it," she said of Navarro, who died in his sleep.

He married Stevens after the death in 1995 of his wife of 70 years, the former Rose Northy. He is also survived by a stepson, Armen Haig Stevens.

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