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The Women of the Los Angeles City Council: Part Two

Social Science, Philosophy and Religion Department, Central Library,
City of Los Angeles Councilwomen: Pat Russell, Peggy Stevenson, Joy Picus, Joan Milke Flores, and Gloria Molina
City of Los Angeles Councilwomen: Pat Russell, Peggy Stevenson, Joy Picus, Joan Milke Flores, and Gloria Molina

Last week we shared about the first three women to serve on the Los Angeles City Council. As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, this week we are highlighting five more councilmembers: Pat Russell, Peggy Stevenson, Joy Picus, Joan Milke Flores, and Gloria Molina.

Councilwoman Pat Russell

Councilwoman Pat Russell, [nd]. Rolland J. Curtis Collection

Pat Russell [b.1923] 6th Council District, 1969-1987
Westchester, Playa del Rey, Venice, Mar Vista, Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw

With experience serving as president of the Los Angeles city and county chapters of the League of Women Voters, Pat Russell won the 1969 special election for the 6th Council District seat on the Los Angeles City Council. Often described by the press as a Westchester housewife, Pat Russell proved to be a skilled politician and was re-elected for four terms in 1971, 1975, 1979, and 1983. Her numerous achievements included implementing LAX noise regulations, preparing an ordinance requiring developers to fund transportation improvements, and shifting investigations of officer-involved shootings from LAPD to District Attorney. In 1983, Russell became the first woman ever selected for City Council President, a powerful position which she held for four years. A strong ally of Mayor Tom Bradley, Russell was a “key strategist” on the Council for his pro-development agenda. In 1986, Russell opposed a popular anti-growth initiative that eventually passed overwhelmingly in her district. Her direction on development was seen as out of step with her constituents, and she faced her first election defeat in 1987 against slow-growth candidate Ruth Galanter. Never one to enjoy the spotlight, Russell left politics behind and has spent a long and quiet retirement enjoying hobbies like hiking, mountain climbing, and gardening.

Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson cleaning up
Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson cleaning up, [1977]. Herald Examiner Collection

Peggy Stevenson [b.1924 – d. 2014] 13th Council District, 1975-1985
Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Glassell Park, Atwater Village, Highland Park

A lifelong resident of Los Angeles and UCLA graduate, Peggy Stevenson’s political career began in managing her husband Robert’s successful 1969 campaign for Los Angeles City Council. Upon Robert’s death in 1975, Stevenson beat out a crowded field in a special election to fill the vacant 13th Council District seat. She won reelection in 1977 on her own record stating “The first time I ran, they thought I was just a little widow...the last time, they elected me because we accomplished things. Like her late husband, Stevenson was an early supporter of the gay and lesbian community. In 1979, she co-authored the city’s first gay rights ordinance, which banned discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation in housing, employment, and business. She charged the LAPD with over deployment of officers for minor disturbances at gay bars and used her position on the Police, Fire, and Civil Defense Committee to probe the issue. Stevenson’s tenure also saw major revitalization efforts in Hollywood, an area she represented. The daughter of Greek immigrants, Stevenson traveled to Greece in the delegation that secured Los Angeles as host for the 1984 Summer Olympics. Stevenson faced two heated electoral battles against challenger Michael Woo. She won reelection in 1981, though her campaign painted Woo as an outsider and was accused of having racial overtones. In the 1985 election, Woo was victorious. After her defeat, Stevenson stated she was no longer interested in being a politician and looked forward to pursuing business ventures and enjoying more time with her adult son.

Joy Picus, member of the Los Angeles City Council
Joy Picus, member of the Los Angeles City Council, [1987]. Photo credit: Mike Sergieff, Herald Examiner Collection

Joy Picus [b. 1930] 3rd Council District, 1977-1993
Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Reseda, West Hills, Winnetka, Canoga Park

Active in the League of Women Voters and civic groups, Picus ran for Los Angeles City Council’s 3rd Council District seat in 1973 but lost in a close race, the incumbent candidate calling her a “wild eyed environmentalist.” In a 1977 rematch for the 3rd Council District seat, she won by a substantial margin. Picus’ support for rent control inspired a 1979 recall petition led by a real estate broker, but it failed to gather the required signatures. A liberal feminist, Picus was often criticized as too left-leaning for her district, but she was reelected in 1981, 1985, and 1989. She authored the city’s child care policy and fought for the opening of a child-care center for Civic Center employees, now called the Joy Picus Child Development Center. She convinced the Council to create city contracting preferences for companies that offered child care benefits to employees. After a successful fight to enact the city's first gender pay-equity agreement, Ms. Magazine named Picus a “Woman of the Year” in 1986. Picus also pushed for more open park space, chaired the panel that developed a curbside recycling program, and was generally opposed to big development. Her handling of a proposed commercial and residential development in Woodland Hills contributed to her waning support, and she was defeated in the 1993 election by her former chief deputy Laura Chick. Retired as a politician, Picus continues to work as a community activist, recently sitting on the boards of the Friends of the Observatory at Griffith Park, Cal State Northridge Foundation, and the Los Angeles Jewish Home.

Councilmember Joan Milke Flores

Joan Milke Flores, council member for District 15, speaking at an unidentified event, [1987]. Photo credit: Mike Siergieff, Herald Examiner Collection

Joan Milke Flores [b. 1936 - 2020] 15th Council District, 1981-1993
Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, San Pedro, Watts, Wilmington

Soon after graduating from Franklin High School, Joan Milke (later Flores) began work at City Hall as an entry-level stenographer. She worked up the clerical ranks and joined the staff of long-serving councilman John S. Gibson in 1956, becoming his chief deputy in 1968. With Gibson’s support, Flores was elected in 1981 to succeed him in the 15th Council District. Considered highly knowledgeable and a steadying force, Flores was named President Pro Tem, becoming the first Council member in 50 years to be chosen for a leadership position in their freshman term. Flores played a key role in settling long-standing controversies, such as a four-year battle over cable TV franchising in the San Fernando Valley. One of the few Republicans on the Council, she often delivered more conservative votes on city-wide issues, such as opposition to rent control. Representing a district threatened by hazardous waste and pollution, Flores was instrumental in the creation of the Department of Environmental Affairs, a move which was hailed by environmentalists. Flores’ tenure also oversaw the creation of the Wilmington Branch Library and restoration of the historic Watts Train Station. Her failed runs for Secretary of State and United States Congress caused some to question her commitment to the district, the criticism she countered by asserting she wished to serve the area in another way. After serving three full terms, Flores lost her 1993 attempt at a fourth term. Her post-Council experience included running her own lobbying firm and serving on a panel overseeing the cooperation between California and Mexico on environmental issues along the border.

Assemblywomen Gloria Molina

Assemblywomen Gloria Molina joins protesters opposed to $50-a-semester fee yesterday in an address to students at East Los Angeles Community College, [1983]. Photo credit: Michael Edwards, Herald Examiner Collection

Gloria Molina [b. 1948] 1st Council District, 1987-1991
Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Chinatown, Echo Park, Lincoln Heights, Pico Union

Gloria Molina has been hailed as a woman of many firsts as the first Latina elected to the California Legislature, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. She won a 1987 special election for Los Angeles City Council to represent the 1st Council District, newly redrawn by order of the U.S. Justice Department to create more ethnically proportional districts. By this time, Molina had already worked in the Carter White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, and as California Assemblywoman from 1982 to 1986. Often criticized by detractors for what she admitted was a “take-no-prisoners attitude,” Molina was tenacious in fighting what she considered an unjust system. She fought against a proposed prison in East Los Angeles, was a proponent of allowing the city to seize rental payments from slumlords to finance repairs, called for incentives for banks to lend more in low-income communities, advocated for tougher oversight on toxic waste, and pushed through a measure to set aside $2 million to divert at-risk youth from gangs. Molina was fairly conservative on public safety issues and praised a plan to redeploy police gang specialists to her district. In 1989, Molina was unopposed in her reelection race. When Los Angeles County supervisorial districts were redrawn in response to a successful lawsuit, Molina ran and won in the newly created Latino-majority district. She went on to serve for 23 years on the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors before being forced out by term limits. She has remained active in community organizations, serving on the boards of the Los Angeles County Grand Park Foundation and the California Community Foundation.