Ernest E. Debs

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Ernest E. Debs
Member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from the 3rd district
In office
Preceded byJohn Anson Ford
Succeeded byEdmund D. Edelman
Member of the Los Angeles City Council from the 13th district
In office
Preceded byJohn R. Roden
Succeeded byJames Harvey Brown
Member of the California State Assembly
from the 56th district
In office
Preceded byNorris Poulson
Succeeded byGlenard P. Lipscomb
Personal details
Ernest Eugene Debs

(1904-02-07)February 7, 1904
Toledo, Ohio, U.S.
DiedMarch 7, 2002(2002-03-07) (aged 98)
Indian Wells, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Lorene Marsh Robertson

Ernest Eugene Debs[1] (February 7, 1904 – March 7, 2002), who went by Ernest E. Debs, was a California State Assembly member from 1942 to 1947, a Los Angeles city councilman from 1947 to 1958 and a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from 1958 to 1974.


Debs was born in Toledo, Ohio, on February 7, 1904, and came to California in a box car when he was 20 to work in the motion picture industry as a dancer, he was also a salesman.[1] "He had no college education and prided himself on being a self-made man," the Los Angeles Times reported in his obituary.[2] Debs married Lorene Marsh Robertson of Placerville, California, in 1944; they had two adopted children, David and Catherine Clare, they lived at 2416 McCready Avenue in the Silver Lake district.[3][4][5]

He was not related to Eugene V. Debs, the labor leader and Socialist candidate for president. He said in 1947:

We're not even remotely related. I am often asked the question, however, and generally it brings up the subject of my party affiliations and general philosophy of government. Well, I guess I'd be called a conservative Democrat. I was elected to the Assembly on both the Republican and Democratic tickets. Definitely I'm against radicals and Communists. At the same time I think the little fellow should get a square deal—I'm for that, too.[6]

Debs, a resident of Indian Wells, Riverside County, at the time, died at the age of 98 on March 17, 2002, he was survived by his wife, Betty Debs; and children David Debs, Candi Debs, Stan Grant, Lonnie Gordon and Nancy Martel. A memorial service was held in the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration.[7]

Public service[edit]

U.S. Congress[edit]

Debs ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congressional seat in the 17th District in 1932. Nineteen years later, in the context of a heated City Council reelection campaign, he was accused by Walter C. Smith, an executive with Lockheed Aircraft, of having registered as a Socialist in both 1930 and 1931 and to have favored "government ownership of public utilities" during the 1932 campaign.[8]

State Assembly[edit]

Debs gave up show business to become a sergeant-at-arms in the State Assembly, and in 1942 he won election to the Assembly in the 56th District.[2] While in the State Assembly, he authored the bill establishing the California State University at Los Angeles campus.[9]

City Council[edit]


See List of Los Angeles municipal election returns, 1931 and after.

Debs first ran for the Los Angeles City Council District 8 seat in the "extreme southwest" of the city[10] in 1931, but came in fourth in a field of eight candidates: Incumbent Evan Lewis was the winner. At that time, according to Walter C. Smith, he was registered in the Liberty Party.[8] In 1947 he ran for the District 13 seat in an area that extended westward to Vermont Avenue and south to Valley Boulevard;[11] he beat incumbent John R. Roden in the runoff vote. He had no opponent in 1949, and he won reelection in the 1951 and 1953 primaries, he had no opponent in 1957.


Incinerator, 1947. After an explosion at the controversial city incinerator at Avenue 21 and Lacy Street, Debs pushed through a resolution calling for an investigation into the circumstances of letting the contract.[12]

Psychiatrist, 1949. Debs was in the forefront of a City Council move against J. Paul de River, the only Los Angeles Police Department psychiatrist at the time, whose activities during the Black Dahlia murder case were said to have resulted in the arrest of two men later released for lack of evidence.[13][14] He criticized de River for having written a "luridly illustrated" book on criminal sex cases, using Police Department files as source material. "The book is filthy and shocking," said Debs, "an obvious attempt to pander to depraved tastes."[15]

Heaters, 1957. He called for the investigation of what he said were 3,000 to 4,000 unvented gas heaters installed in the city schools.[16]

Board of Supervisors[edit]

Debs was elected to the county Board of Supervisors in 1958, representing the 3rd District; as County Supervisor, he chaired 13 major departments, and served on many committees.[citation needed]

During the counterculture era of the 1960s, centered on the county-administered Sunset Strip, Debs was an implacable foe of the youth movements of the time and had several rock-and-roll venues, such as Pandora's Box, and coffeehouses shut down. Debs ordered the Sheriff's office to crack down on the counterculture-oriented nightlife, which led to the 1966 Sunset Strip riot. Debs ardently backed the construction of the Laurel Canyon Freeway and Beverly Hills Freeway and sought to turn the Sunset Strip into a new office district. With the cancellation of both freeway projects and competition from the nearby and newly built Century City as a premium office market, Debs' plans for the Strip were only partly realized.[17]

He appointed the final three members to the nine-member Los Angeles County Civil Defense and Disaster Commission during the nuclear crisis in the early 1960s: They were Disaster Services co-coordinator Roy D. Hoover, Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess, and businessman Louis Lesser.[18]


Two public parks bear the Debs name:

  1. Ernest E. Debs Regional Park — in the western San Rafael Hills above the Arroyo Seco, in the Montecito Heights neighborhood of central-northeast Los Angeles.
  2. Ernest Debs Park — in Bell (southeastern L.A. County).


  1. ^ a b "Eighty-Nine File in Council Race," Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1931, page A-1
  2. ^ a b Kenneth Reich, "Ernest E. Debs, 98; County Supervisor for 16 Years," March 19, 2002
  3. ^ Location of the Debs residence on Mapping L.A.
  4. ^ Los Angeles Public Library reference file
  5. ^ Norma H. Goodhue, "Mrs. Debs Leads Dynamic Life of Service, Interests," Los Angeles Times, January 27, 1958, page A-3
  6. ^ "Ernest E. Debs No Relation to Eugene V. Debs," Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1947, page 5
  7. ^ Funeral notice, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2002
  8. ^ a b "Foe of Debs Hits His Past Political Ties," Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1951, page 39
  9. ^ "Mrs. Debs Leads Dynamic Life of Service, Interests," Los Angeles Times, January 27, 1958, page 3
  10. ^ "Political Fur Flies at Finish," Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1929, page 2
  11. ^ "Proposed New Alignment for City Voting Precincts," Los Angeles Times, November 30, 1940, page A-3 Includes a map.
  12. ^ "Council Orders Full Investigation of Incinerator Following Explosion," Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1947, page A-1
  13. ^ "Dr. De River Crime Work Under Fire," Los Angeles Times, January 22, 1949, page 4
  14. '^ "Police Force's Psychiatrist to Be Investigated," Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1949, page 4
  15. ^ "Dr. De River Suspended Pending Narcotics Trial," Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1950, page 1 The Sexual Criminal: A Psychoanalytical Study (1949) Library of Congress catalog [1]
  16. ^ "City Quiz on Unvented School Heaters Asked," Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1957, page 4
  17. ^ Priore, Domenic. Riot On Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' roll's last stand in Hollywood. Jawbone Press, 2007.
  18. ^ Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1961 “Businessman Appointed to Civil Defense Group” [2]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
John R. Roden
Los Angeles City Council
13th District

Succeeded by
James Harvey Brown
Preceded by
John Anson Ford
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
3rd District

Succeeded by
Edmund D. Edelman