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Ed Davis: A True Public Servant


Ed Davis
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Early last Sunday morning, I picked up my three Sunday papers and went to the backyard with my cup of coffee to relax and enjoy some solitude, reading.

The calm lasted less than five minutes. On the bottom of the front page was the article, "Ed Davis 1916-2006: Tough-Talking Chief Reshaped LAPD."

My mentor, a man I had grown to love, admire and think of as a second father, had died.

I sat there in silence, but surprisingly composed, for several minutes. I then read the article, which dealt primarily with his career as chief of the LAPD, and began remembering my experiences working for him as his chief of staff from 1983 until 1992, when he retired as a California senator.

I grew up in San Diego and first became aware of Ed Davis during the mid-1970s while a student at USC. As a college student, my impression of him — gained through the media — was that Ed Davis was too conservative for me. As a result, I did not support him in 1978 when he ran for governor, supporting instead my hometown mayor, Pete Wilson.

After graduating from law school and practicing law for several years, I was on the staff for Pete Wilson when he was elected to U.S. Senate in 1982. After his election, I decided I did not want to move back to Washington, D.C. However, the political bug had bitten me, and I wanted to work for an elected official. In June 1983, I learned that Davis, by now a state senator, had an opening for his chief of staff, and I applied.

When I met him for my interview, he stood up from behind his big desk and stuck out the largest hand I had ever shaken. As we began the interview, all my previous impressions of Ed Davis rapidly evaporated. This was no right wing ideologue. This was a well educated man who believed in public service and solving problems. He was also colorful with a great sense of humor. He loved the fact that I was a USC graduate and also, unlike many people, respected attorneys.

Halfway through the interview, I began hoping I would be offered the job. I still remember, as if it were yesterday, his final question to me, which was whether I ever wanted to run for office. I began answering in a somewhat noncommittal manner. Before I could finish, Ed uttered an expletive and turned to his legislative assistant and asked, "Jim, isn't it true that all lawyers want to be president or chief justice of the Supreme Court?" He proceeded to let out one of the biggest laughs I had ever heard. That taught me always to answer Ed Davis directly.

For the nine years I served Ed as his chief of staff, I was able to experience his dedication to public service almost every day.

Ed believed in a representative democracy. Although he had strong beliefs, he recognized that one of his main responsibilities was to be a problem solver for individuals and for his district at large.

Ed's senate district included Santa Clarita, the north and west San Fernando Valley, half of Ventura County and the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County. Each year, in addition to many other public appearances, he would have what he called traveling office hours. We would find a host, usually the local city or chamber of commerce, where Ed would set up his office to meet with whomever wanted to come in and see him. These would be individuals or organizations. Many of his ideas for legislation came from these meetings.

Ed Davis
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Ed's practice of dealing with legislation was also somewhat unique. Prior to introducing a bill, he would always insist that the sponsors and his staff identify the opponents to the proposed legislation and meet with them. As a former police chief, he would frequently carry crime legislation, but he would still meet with — and listen to — liberal groups such as the ACLU before introducing his legislation. He believed this process created better legislation.

Ed loved Santa Clarita. His wife, Bobbie, had been a longtime resident of the SCV and had been involved with The Signal before it was purchased by Scott and Ruth Newhall in the 1960s. During his tenure in the state Senate, he and Bobbie called Santa Clarita home.

Many of our current residents — if they have heard of Ed Davis at all — probably know him simply for the image created during his time as chief of the LAPD. However, Ed left a legacy benefiting Santa Clarita that we all should remember.

In 1986 we were not yet a city, and there had been two previous and unsuccessful efforts to become a separate county. Citizen activists such as Lou Garasi, then president of the SCV Chamber of Commerce, Glo and Art Donnelly, Connie Worden-Roberts and many others began the effort to incorporate.

Prior to our local citizens being able even to vote on the matter, an agency called LAFCO had to approve the boundaries and confirm that the proposed city could be financially viable. Those opposed to our self-determination argued to LAFCO against us even being able to vote to create our city, or to limit our boundaries so that most undeveloped land was still in the county.

Ed came out strongly in support of our quest for self-determination. When the county tried to claim that the proposed city wouldn't be able to balance its budget because of something called "wild land fire costs," Ed introduced legislation to ensure that LAFCO couldn't abuse this process.

When we were finally scheduled for the November 1987 ballot, some developers, along with county Supervisor Pete Schabarum, came out strongly against cityhood and raised more than $300,000 to oppose the measure. The citizens committee supporting incorporation had only about $60,000 to use for a campaign. As a result, the committee asked Ed to hold a press conference at the Los Angeles Press Club on the Friday before the election to promote incorporation and attack the opponents. Because of Ed's image, he was able to get the newspapers, along with television and radio reporters, to this event. The coverage ran all weekend and certainly helped in achieving our success on Election Day, creating the largest city ever formed by the voters.

After the creation of Santa Clarita, Ed worked closely with the new City Council and the community. He assisted in opposing the creation of new landfills around our valley, and the expansion of existing landfills. He worked with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the city to create the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park to preserve what are now thousands of acres of beautiful forest land in the Santa Susana Mountains and the Newhall Pass. He cut through the red tape with Caltrans to allow the private sector to build new on- and off-ramps to the Valencia Industrial Center and to beautify some existing interchanges. And he did much more.

To others, Ed Davis' legacy will probably remain his success as chief of LAPD and his tough and outspoken nature. I hope his legacy will include that he was the epitome of a public servant, a state senator who worked hard for his district and his constituents, and who bemoaned the partisanship which is now rampant in Sacramento. We could all learn much from his example.

There will be a memorial service for Ed at the Los Angeles Police Academy on Thursday, May 4, at 2:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, which was established to provide assistance to families of police officers who were killed in the line of duty. Checks should be made payable to the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, 1880 N. Academy Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Hunt Braly is a partner in the Valencia law firm of HackerBraly LLP. He served as Senator Ed Davis' chief of staff from 1983 until Davis' retirement in 1992.

ED DAVIS

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