Some may roll their eyes to the thought that a coalition of mostly wealthy homeowners could be referred to as “grassroots,” a term more commonly associated with social justice movements. But they would be wrong: During his four decades of rule, Close and SOHA have consistently out-organized, overtaken and out-maneuvered their political opponents.
In the 1980s, Close and SOHA partnered with dozens of other homeowner associations to create the Valley “slow growth” movement that aimed to prevent new housing, maintain single-family zoning, and in many cases take control of the city Los Angeles or other meddling city officials.
Close, for example, was a major proponent of the San Fernando Valley’s failed attempt to secede from the rest of Los Angeles in 2002, partly due to a lack of services consistent with its tax base. He worked to pass the monumental 1986 Proposition U, which limited the amount of square feet that could be built on a lot in Los Angeles and which still holds residential and commercial real estate in a stranglehold.
Some SOHA members also played a major role in the failed efforts in the late 1970s to stop bus transport of black students from South Los Angeles to Valley schools. SOHA did not take an official position in this fight, but individuals who witnessed its organizing power brought their knowledge to the campaigns, leading a member of the Los Angeles Education Committee to say, “We have our political Ps and Qs learned at the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. “
Close’s network still exists, and it continues to practice the coalition policies that have protected its neighborhoods for the past half century. Although the valley’s demographics have changed – Latinos now make up a majority of the population, according to the Census Bureau – SOHA and its network are still active. They still hand out petitions and meet every month to hear from one another.
In 2015, Close and SOHA flexed their muscles in the city council elections by helping David Ryu beat the Los Angeles Times-backed candidate. The credit, both public and private, was given to Close and SOHA. A scene described in a 2017 article in Los Angeles Magazine shows Close’s influence:
“Ryu is one of the few poles in the shine of Close and he is the keynote speaker at this evening’s meeting. As the 41-year-old former community health director approaches the cafeteria stage, Close yells, “He shouldn’t win the primary; he should be gone. How many councilors have you supported? ‘ Zero, replies Ryu. ‘How many developer dollars did you take?’ None. ‘So how did you win?’ Ryu points to the room. ‘Because of you.’ “
In 2015, organizations like SOHA were able to have a significant impact on city council elections for the simple reason that odd-year elections that do not coincide with national and state competitions tend to have very low turnout. The 2020 election against Raman was the first in years to be held concurrently with a presidential race, which meant SOHA’s voting block wouldn’t go that far.