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How Local Politics Shape Federal Policy

How Local Politics Shape Federal Policy: Business, Power, and the Environment in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles

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  • Book Info
    How Local Politics Shape Federal Policy
    Book Description:

    Focusing on five Los Angeles environmental policy debates between 1920 and 1950, Sarah Elkind investigates how practices in American municipal government gave business groups political legitimacy at the local level as well as unanticipated influence over federal politics.Los Angeles's struggles with oil drilling, air pollution, flooding, and water and power supplies expose the clout business has had over government. Revealing the huge disparities between big business groups and individual community members in power, influence, and the ability to participate in policy debates, Elkind shows that business groups secured their political power by providing Los Angeles authorities with much-needed services, including studying emerging problems and framing public debates. As a result, government officials came to view business interests as the public interest. When federal agencies looked to local powerbrokers for project ideas and political support, local business interests influenced federal policy, too. Los Angeles, with its many environmental problems and its dependence upon the federal government, provides a distillation of national urban trends, Elkind argues, and is thus an ideal jumping-off point for understanding environmental politics and the power of business in the middle of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0270-7
    Subjects: Business, Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-16)

    When Americans imagine their democracy, they envision government institutions that protect and nurture the public interest. So far, so good. But this vision quickly gets complicated and contradictory: Americans vilify equally the influence of uninformed public opinion and that of so-called special interests. And yet interest groups have played a role in American politics from the very beginning. In the earliest years of the Republic, merchants and consumers pressured congressional representatives for lower tariffs, while manufacturers advocated higher import duties. Farmers took up arms against taxes on whiskey because they enriched urban merchants at the farmers’ expense. The Fugitive Slave...

  6. CHAPTER ONE OIL AND WATER The Public and the Private on Southern California Beaches, 1920–1950
    (pp. 17-51)

    Los Angeles beaches have changed since the 1920s. Old photographs reveal people lounging in the sand, playing in the waves, and fishing from piers. They show lifeguard towers and crowds of umbrellas. But these crowds play in the shadow of oil rigs and ornate beach clubs that have mostly disappeared from Los Angeles’s shoreline. It took nearly thirty years, but miles of Los Angeles area beaches were eventually acquired by state, county, and city governments. The campaign was spearheaded by prominent individuals in the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Realty Board with support from the outspoken...

  7. CHAPTER TWO INFLUENCE THROUGH COOPERATION The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Air Pollution Control in Los Angeles, 1943–1954
    (pp. 52-82)

    In the summer of 1943, an acrid cloud settled over downtown Los Angeles. On the streets below, cars collided as “lacrimous fumes” blinded drivers.¹ City officials received letter after letter complaining that the smoke destroyed the community, “depressed . . . [the] spirits,” interfered with the pursuit of happiness, and threatened the public health.² Thus began a decades-long battle to control both air pollution and policy in Los Angeles. Within a few months of the “gas attacks,” as newspapers called the 1943 smog events, city and county officials began to treat the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce as the representative...

    (pp. 83-116)

    Interstate 605 runs north along the San Gabriel River from the coast at Seal Beach to the San Gabriel Mountains near Duarte. About halfway along, the road climbs up over a saddle in the hills that separate the San Gabriel Valley to the north from the coastal plain below. There it passes a low earthen dam that guards a basin studded with picnic tables, ball fields, a nature center, a disc golf course, and all the trappings of a major urban park. The recreational facilities obscure the real function of the dam: to slow floodwaters before they reach the crowded...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR PRIVATE POWER AT HOOVER DAM Utilities, Government Power, and Political Realism, 1920–1928
    (pp. 117-147)

    When approached by road from the Nevada side, Hoover Dam appears first in glimpses. Its 726-foot-high mass, its triumphant sandy arched face, its art nouveau details are revealed slowly; the final impressions are of majesty and an unproblematic celebration of technology so tangible it can make one nostalgic. This impression is not accidental. The physical design of the dam and its carefully planned approach roads were intended to inspire not only confidence in the Bureau of Reclamation but patriotic pride in the nation’s ability to conquer nature even in such a remote and forbidding place as the Black Canyon of...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE THE TRIUMPH OF LOCALISM The Rejection of National Water Planning in 1950
    (pp. 148-177)

    In December 1928, in an editorial announcing that the Senate had finally passed the Boulder Canyon dam bill, theNew York Timeslamented that Congress had missed an opportunity to plan the development of all the Colorado River’s resources for the benefit of the entire region and nation. Instead, Congress, “torn by conflicting desires and expediencies of the moment,” had responded piecemeal to the competing demands of Imperial Valley irrigators, utility corporations, cities, and the states.¹ Two decades later, another opportunity for comprehensive water resources planning arose. This time it was defeated less by the “conflicting desires and expediencies of...

    (pp. 178-184)

    The recommendations of the President’s Water Resources Policy Commission of 1950 languished for many reasons. Among them was the fact that implementing river basin planning required Congress members who held the power to approve federal river projects to surrender this authority to an independent river basin commission. Congress had little incentive to make changes of this magnitude in the absence of widespread public demands. Such demands never appeared. If news coverage reflected as well as shaped public opinion on this matter, the PWRPC’s proposals were widely perceived as a federal power grab, a threat to private and local initiative, and...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 185-238)
    (pp. 239-250)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 251-267)