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Jerry Decter dies at 85; activist helped bring down an L.A. councilman

He and his wife looked into the dealings of Louis R. Nowell related to matters before the City Council and discovered 'indiscretions,' leading him to step down in the late 1970s.

July 27, 2009|Valerie J. Nelson

Jerry Decter, a Los Angeles community activist who with his wife documented a series of allegations that pushed City Councilman Louis R. Nowell to leave his post in the late 1970s, has died. He was 85.

Decter had a heart attack and later died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on June 24, said his wife, Betty.

In 1971, the Decters helped defeat another city councilman, James B. Potter, and a housing development planned for their neighborhood in a canyon near Beverly Hills when they became aware of Nowell's pro-development stance.

"The deeper we dug, the more we realized Nowell was up to his eyeballs in mass development and in freeways," Decter told The Times in 1977.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Jerry Decter obituary: A photo caption accompanying the obituary of Jerry Decter in Monday's Section A said the photo of Decter and his wife, Betty, was taken at their home in the San Fernando Valley. The Decters lived in a canyon near Beverly Hills.

The couple spent thousands of dollars of their own money to uncover what they called "indiscretions" that ended the councilman's 14-year career. Their revelations included Nowell's failure to properly report $19,700 collected at a testimonial dinner and a trip to Mexico funded by billboard companies.

Bill Boyarsky, a former Times city editor and columnist, said the Decters "did incredibly good research. They got the goods."

After the Decters revealed that Nowell had a sweetheart deal on a boat slip with a developer he had supported, the councilman complained: "Anything I get for wholesale in my life probably is going to be investigated by those two and their chief snooper," The Times reported in 1977.

They waited to see if he would vote against an ordinance to control billboards in 1976, and when he did they demanded that Nowell be charged with conspiracy and bribery. Days later, the tearful councilman announced that he was done. Nowell died July 2 in Camarillo at 94.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was a city councilman in 1977 when he said Nowell had driven "himself out of office."

"Not a week went by that he didn't refer to the Decters," Yaroslavsky told The Times in 1977. "He had no one to blame but himself. They weren't making those things up."

Born Gerald Decter in 1924 in Los Angeles, he attended USC for a year and served in the Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

For decades, he presided over Decter Mannikin Co., a noted Los Angeles mannequin manufacturer founded by his father early in the 20th century.

He was "a tree-hugger before the phrase was coined," according to his wife, and helped establish the William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom in Franklin Canyon. He also was a devotee of tennis, playing into his 84th year.

Until about two years ago, Decter remained an involved community activist, often fighting development near the home he had lived in since 1961.

In addition to Betty, his wife of 48 years, his survivors include a daughter, Karalee Miracle; sons Thomas Decter and Bill Fenske; three grandchildren; a great-grandson; and a sister, Joyce Wolff.

Memorial donations can be made to Heifer International, www.heifer.org, or Smile Train, www.smiletrain.org.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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latimes.com/obituaries

Recent obituaries and accompanying photo galleries are on

The Times' website.

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