“In Order to Maintain a Balanced Community”: The Annual Report of the Board of Supervisors, County of Los Angeles, Fiscal Year Ending 30 June 1927, Part Two

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As we continue with our review of the fact-filled report of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the 1926-1927 fiscal year, we resume with a vital entity within the county system, the Regional Planning Commission, and the ongoing development of its multi-year Regional Plan. It was noted that the project was four years in the making and that “the past year has been one of continuous progress towards its perfection” along with “actual control of the physical growth of the County” with subdivisions, zoning and highways.

A Regional Highway Plan was underway and “is a tremendous job” requiring practicality and feasibility in engineering and spending and efficient coordination with incorporated cities that largely composed the county. The report noted that adherence to standards with modern highways was critical because of the need to revise “our highway systems to conform to the behavior of traffic consistent with the tremendous development and utilization of the automobile.” This, of course, was well before the concept of the freeway and the national highway system, both of which were about a quarter century in the future.

What was referred to as “a general skeleton plan of highways” was completed and its refinement was concentrated in two areas: the Harbor District and the San Gabriel Valley. Obviously, a major element, though not stated here, was the importance of shipping by sea and land and getting products to and from the harbor and out to the rest of the country. Working on intersections, bridges across water courses, rail crossing and other components as well as dealing with land ownership were highlighted.

It was added that “throughout the San Gabriel Valley numerous conferences have been held with the city engineers and administrators of various cities in an efort to thoroughly coordinate the County’s major traffic plan with those of the cities through which parts of it might pass” and these were considered to have been very successful. Moreover, there were highways already being built, while many more were in the planning stage and others were being handled as subdivisions were being recorded. Planting trees at the furthest edges of rights-of-way was encouraged for aesthetics, while allowing room for future widening to avoid tearing out and planting new trees.

With respect to zoning, work was continuing to develop consistence with subdivisions to avoid “objectional [objectionable] enterprises,” especially in so-called “high class residential property” with examples including the Beverly Boulevard, La Cañada[-Flintridge], and other residence districts. A recently enacted county ordinance calling for building permits on all new construction was in place in Altadena, as well. Surveys for use of property were completed for 82 square miles of territory in the county and another thirty-five square mailes were under preliminary mapping.

Concerning subdivisions, there were 175 maps submitted covering more than 8,500 acres with public roads dedicated within approved tracts. Obtaining reasonable easements, building lines and deed restructions were key “to protect future development and eliminate the costly condemnation of buildings.” The commission also published “The General Requirements for the Subdivision of Land” for about 600 engineers and surveyors to utilize in their work, though it was also requested by others across the country.

For landscaping improvements, the county forester and horticultural commissioner were included in planning processes both for tree planting along streets and dealing with pests in areas with heavy citrus raising (such as in the La Puente Valley and North Whittier [Hacienda] Heights.) It was added the good landscape design means preserving the existing topography through trees and “natural beauties.”

Another area of discussion concerned parks and recreation with it stated that the commission’s policy was to acquire or have developers set aside “suitable park, school playground, beach, or other open spaces of recreational or public nature in order to maintain a balanced community.” Moreover, it was noted that “a system of parks and parkways has been laid out” with some acquisition and deveopment under way. There were also several parks designed “and adopted by their respective communities,” though the section concluded that “considerable study is still necessary” in terms of such obviously crucial areas as “financing the maintenance of acquired parks.”

The 1920s was definitely a decade of Republican Party political dominance and this was exemplified in the Registrar of Voters brief report on the number of registered voters for the last general statewide election, held in November 1926. Of some 688,000 persons, nearly two-thirds were registered with the G.O.P., while only 20% were with the Democratic Party, with 1% declared Socialist and a little under 2% for the Prohibition Party. Those who were independent constituted about 14% of the county electorate. In February of this year, by contrast, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 52% to 17%, while independents now total about a quarter of registered voters and 7% are among a smattering of other parties. In that fall 1926 election, voter turnout was 58%, not too bad for a mid-term election (in 2020, the county voting rate was about three-quarters—admittedly for a highly charged election.)

The report of the Los Angeles Municipal Court included the statement that there was an ‘immense volume of business” comprising almost 238,000 cases filed, of which 80% were criminal matters. Over three-quarters of these were traffic and motor vehicle related cases, with 6% being public intoxication and about 4% involving Prohibition violations. There were also nearly 7,500 small claims filings.

Court judgments totaled just under 10,000 with another 10,600 emanating from the County Clerk. Revenues totaled almost $220,000, most of which went to the county’s Salary Fund, with some monies dedicated to the county Law Library. The City filed nearly 170,000 cases and fines and forfeitures yielded over $1.13 million, while the county filed not quite 22,000 cases and revenue was about $184,000, though there was additional $220,000 devolving from civil matters.

The County Clerk provided comparative figures for the last two tears with general increases in almost all areas of business from civil and criminal actions, to divorce filings, juvenile delinquency petitions, probate filings and others. About 40% of the 28,000 civil actions filed led to judgments. There were 8,600 divorce filings and about two-thirds of those were finalized. There was an increase of just under 10% of juvenile delinquency petitipons, totaling just above 4,000. Fees to the Salary Fund were up about 8% to about $385,000.

The Coroner’s statement included the observation that the 1926-27 was the first full operational year of the mortuary and it was adjudged to be running smoothly, even though it was “guided by almost no previous experience.” Over 3,600 cases were handled, almost half of which were outside the City of Los Angeles, so nearly 1,900 were processed through the mortuary with remains “turned over to claimants in as good condition as embalming skill will permit.”

There were 842 inquests held after deaths, involving an average of about five witnesses per proceeding with the coroner and deputies racking up over 11,000 miles of travel. There were two autopsy surgeons who conducted almost 2,400 post-mortem examinations, with just a fraction, about 4%, requiring toxicological exams. The number of unclaimed bodies was 142 and which “were delivered to the County Crematory for cremation at the County’s expense.” This was done then, as now, at a facility at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

With respect to the pathology work conducted, it was noted that “we are now able to make as exhaustive scientific investigations of causes of death as possible” including “some of the most baffling cases of death occurring in this country. These included homicidal and suicidal poisoning, which “are of common occurrence” and requiring that the coroner “be ever on the alert and provided with every scientific means to detect such poisons.” It was proudly stated that the office was “on as high a plane as any coroner’s office in the United States.”

As with other departments, it was noted that “the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is now conceded to be the largest” in the nation, but, unlike other departments elswhere, which handled the jail and civil action service, this one “also has a police work to perform” because of protection provided to people living in unincorporated areas. Moreover, the deaprtment investigated felonies in smaller incorporated towns “not provided with sufficient personnel or equipment to make thorough investigations.”

With just over 4,000 square miles in its jurisdiction and an estimated populace of 2.3 million, with about 300,000 in unincorporated areas, there was a great deal for the department to handle. Statistics were provided on the value of recovered property from burglaries, robberies, and auto theft. Some $330,000 was collected in Prohibition cases, so that total recovered monies approached $1.3 million. In the civil arena, it was reported that during the year, the office “handled more business than ever before in its history,” aggregating about $1.314 million.

As for the jail, it was noted that “there were 20 per cent more prisoners booked” than in the prio year, with a total of just shy of 15,000, nearly three-quarters of which were men. It was added that since 1920, the average age of prisoners dropped, so that it was just under 30 years. One of the pressing problems was adequate feeding of prisoners and there were more than a million means served, though rising costs and food quality were competing issues. It was claimed, though, that “we have an enviable record during the last four years of doing both of these things right.” Finally, there were 640 prisoners sent to four mountain detention caps to conduct county road work.

The Recorder reported that a net of about $230,000 of receipts over disbursements was collected during the year, with almost 550,000 documents recorded. Birth certificates numbered just over 9,000, while death certificates were above 6,200, and marriage licenses issued were just shy of 16,700. Yet, the officer noted that “it is imperative that this Department be given more room” as space for the public to access books was limited and “valuable records are scattered” in two building, including “a room in the old Court House [built in 1889 and torn down after the 1933 Long beach earthquake], the room being without windows or ventilation.”

It was “most respectfully suggested” that a new building be constructed that was “absolutely fireproof” as some 2,000 documents were being received each day and “are of such nature that they must be prepared and accessible to the public at all times.” Even if work was started now on a new building, “the space now allotted would not hold the records by the time such building could be completed.”

With the Land Registration Division, disbursements were about three times as much as receipts and fees, established by an initiative voted by the public, were just so small as to create the imbalance. For example, it was noted that a title certificate was five times more in Canada and a mortgage entry on an original certificate was three times as much, leading the recorder to state that “if our charges were the same as elsewhere the division would be self-sustaining.”

Pacoima Dam, one of the major regional flood control projects of the era.

For sake of space, we’ll skip over reports of the public administration and forestry division, though there is interesting material in the latter with respect to ornamental forestry and a nursery program, along with discussion of the “Improvement of the Forest Area” including matters relating to runoff and erosion, fire studies and water use. The county’s fire warden had several divisions, in cluding a fire department, fire prevention bureau, construction, a fish and game warden, and law enforcement. Six geographical divisions were established, including one east of San Gabriel Canyon and covering the San Jose and Puente Hills near the Homestead.

It is also interesting to see some of the detail in the division reports, including the discussion of wild animal inventories, including deer (of which over 50 were filled illegally, as could be discovered), birds (quail hunting was expected to be “very poor” in the fall), rabbits (scarcer each year), and trout (100,000 of these planted in the mountains). There was an increase in the mountain lion population and it was asserted that increasing the bounty, which failed at the legislature level, would have had an effect “against this class of predatory animals.” Compare this comment to the attitude we have now.

Notably, it was observed that:

While the fish and game resources of this County are not as plentiful as might be desired, it is, however, only reasonable to believe that we are fortunate in having the amount that does exist in that the tremendous incease in population naturally results in more people enjoying the mountains, and this, together with the rapid development of subdivisions throughout the majority of the mountainous areas or those adjacent to highways, is slowly but surely driving the game back to the interiors in the larger areas or entirely causing it to disappear in other sections. The one great salvation that the County has is in the existence of the State Game Refuge within the Angeles National Forest

Also of note was the the law enforcement division reported that “a very deplorable circumstance occurred inthe Malibu Division” as two deputies warned a trio of men to put out their cigarettes. Yet, “instead of receiving the warning in the spirit that should have been shown by any citizen,” the offenders “attacked and almost beat to death the two wardens.” The men were captured and charged with attempted murder and one warden was back on duty, but “the other man is still in a precarious condition.” This led the department to change policy and allow wardens to carry firearms at all times, which “is just another example of what a few people can do to spoil things for the majority.”

The Horticulture Department reported on plant pest quanrantine and control matters, enforcement of state laws and apiary (bee-keeping) inspections. It was noted, for example, that over 62,000 plants were inspected for pests and that over 800 nurseries were involved in the county. One of the big concerns was for the Mediterranean fruit fly, always high on that list. As for pest control, it was reported that citrus groves were in better shape than since 1922 when it came to infestations. Over 45,000 acres were treated, with 24,000 fumigated and about 21,500 sprayed and there was an increase of about 4,000 acres under treatment compared to the previous year.

The county’s “insectary” was located at Rivera, now part of Pico Rivera, where the ladybird beetle was raised to compat the citrophilus mealybug, deemed “one of the major insect pests attacking citrus in Los Angeles County.” About a quarter of citrus lands were infested, though it was stated that some 70% of coastal groves had the bug, while only 6% in the interior were so infested. Almost double the beetles (from about 2 to nearly 3.8 million) were released, with growers reimbursing the county at a penny per insect. Also discussed was control of ground squirrels and noxious weeds, inspection of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the bee colonies (800 apiaries and 45,000 colonies during the year.)

The Live Stock Department report discussed controlling tuberculosis (including branding a “T” on the left jaw of all infected cattle); the Poultry Service Division (2.5 million hens were in the county, with about 200,000 mature birds dying of diseases each year); the Meat Inspection Division, which focused on better, not more, slaughterhouses and a better way to dispose of sewage; the Garbage Control Division, with emphasis on better supervision of feeding plants and methods of hauling waste, as well as using over 33,000 hogs to consume garbage with over 10,000 more than two years prior on the same amount of trash; rabbit service work and other work.

The matter of weights and measures is usually not recognized for its importance, but it was noted that Los Angeles County had the largest such department west of Chicago and it was stated that it was “of and for the people, protecting each man, woman and child in the purchase of the daily necessities which are purchased by weight or measure.” Scales, gasoline pumps and other devices were handled by department, which found that there were nearly 22,000 such that were operating incorrectly and leading to tremendous financial loss.

Michillinda (for Michigan/Illinois/Indiana) Park, on Huntington Drive east of Rosemead Boulevard, is next to the Chapman Woods tract in East Pasadena near the borders with San Gabriel and Arcadia.

Nearly 25,000 businesses and over 160,000 devices were checked, along with more than 86,000 packaged goods and ice, grocery, fruit and other shipments were also inspected, as were more than 8 million bottles of milk. In the last few years, 700 individuals and companies were convicted of violating the law, while standards for the weights of bread and, berry boxes and scales for peddlers were pursued by proposed legislation.

We continue tomorrow with the remainder of this report, including statement on flood control, public health, charities, the County Farm, the Olive View Sanatorium, outdoor relief, the county’s general hospital, probation divisions, schools, the county’s Museum of History, Science and Art, and others to be discussed. Please back then!

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