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

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

by Sarah S. Elkind


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469618975
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 08/01/2014
Series: The Luther H. Hodges Jr. and Luther H. Hodges Sr. Series on Business, Entrepreneurship, and Public Policy
Edition description: 1
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Sarah S. Elkind is associate professor of history and former director of environmental studies at San Diego State University. She is author of Bay Cities and Water Politics: The Battle for Resources in Boston and Oakland, which won the Abel Wolman Prize from the Public Works Historical Society.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Abbreviations xiii

Introduction: Business Interests, Special Interests, and the Public Interest 1

Chapter 1 Oil and Water 17

The Public and the Private on Southern California Beaches, 1920-1950

Chapter 2 Influence Through Cooperation 52

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Air Pollution Control in Los Angeles, 1943-1954

Chapter 3 Flood Control and Political Exclusion At Whittier Narrows, 1938-1948 83

Chapter 4 Private Power at Hoover Dam 117

Utilities, Government Power, and Political Realism, 1920-1928

Chapter 5 The Triumph of Localism 148

The Rejection of National Water Planning in 1950

Conclusion: Small Government and Big Business in the Mid-Twentieth Century 178

Notes 185

Bibliography 239

Index 251

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Combining urban, political, and environmental history, Sarah Elkind delivers an assiduously researched analysis of how political policies are formed in the United States. This is a compelling, fascinating, and innovative book.—Douglas Sackman, University of Puget Sound, and editor of A Companion to American Environmental History

Through her nuanced analysis and deeply researched case studies, Sarah Elkind illuminates the interactions among federal, state, and local institutions that shaped the making of public policy not only in Los Angeles, but in the United States as a whole. In particular, Elkind reveals how the power of local businesses could be used to further federal policy, as well as thwart it. This valuable work makes significant contributions to the ongoing discussion of the American political economy in the twentieth century.—William H. Becker, George Washington University

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