L.A. CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS 2ND DISTRICT : Art Collector Wachs Rode Out Changes Wearing Cowboy Boots : Incumbent: Since boundary changes in 1987, he has sought to get to know constituents and give himself a higher profile on Valley issues.


The art-magazine writer was getting a little breathless as he described all the works filling the collector’s home.

“Lining the dining room, the kitchen, the laundry porch, the den, the guest room, the halls, the bedroom, they even fill the tiny back bedroom, which boasts an Agnes Martin painting, a Sol LeWitt drawing, a Lucas Samaras Polaroid, a Jenny Holzer cautionary tale on paper . . . a small Anselm Kiefer gouache and more,” he wrote.

“The living room . . . accommodates small but choice Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb and Helen Frankenthaler paintings above the fireplace; a tiny but quintessential John Chamberlain sculpture; Gary Stephan paintings; Bruce Nauman prints; an early John Duff sculpture. . . . “

But the correspondent for ARTnews magazine was not describing the mansion of an art-buying heiress or industrialist. He was talking about the Studio City home of Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs.


An art aficionado since his Harvard Law School days, Wachs recently was listed by the magazine as one of the top 200 collectors in the world. Among others on the list were oil heir J. Paul Getty II and French actor Alain Delon.

Art is more than a private passion for the veteran lawmaker, however. Since his 1971 election, he has emerged as the council’s leading promoter of the arts.

Wachs, 52, recently was credited with steering through the City Council a public arts program that will require developers to pay millions of dollars annually to install artwork in commercial projects ranging from mini-malls to high-rise office buildings.

A liberal Republican, Wachs also has long backed causes such as gay and renters’ rights. On the council, he pushed successfully for a law prohibiting discrimination against people diagnosed as having AIDS--the nation’s first.


Wachs faced his most difficult political obstacle in 1987, after he was shunted into a new, all-San Fernando Valley council district during a citywide redrawing of council boundaries.

For 16 years before that, Wachs had represented a middle- and upper-middle-class district that included tony Laurel Canyon and the Sunset Strip. But after the reapportionment, he found himself thrust into a more conservative, blue-collar district that included working-class neighborhoods in Lake View Terrace and the semi-rural horse country of Sunland-Tujunga.

At the time, there were predictions that Wachs could not be reelected in the new district. But after a weekend at home contemplating his political future, he decided to run again.

First, he needed to acquaint himself with his new constituents. So he bought cowboy boots. He attended chili cook-offs. He was photographed astride horses. He even organized a two-day festival of country-Western music at Hansen Dam, featuring Charlie Pride and Reba McEntire.

“He was Tex Wachs within two weeks. He was very quick to get horse manure on his Gucci loafers,” said Republican political consultant Paul Clarke.

After six months of frantic campaigning, Wachs was easily reelected, piling up 65% of the vote against four challengers.

Wachs denied he altered his political style in order to win the seat.

“I didn’t change. . . . I just went out and got on horseback and went to chili cook-offs, and I began to appreciate the lifestyle of people there,” he said.


Since he was placed in the new district, Wachs has worked to give himself a higher profile on Valley issues. Among other things, he held a series of well-publicized hearings aimed at halting aerial spraying of malathion.

Wachs said that if he is reelected, he will continue to pursue several initiatives he has already begun, including restrictions on house construction in the hills in the northeast portion of the district.

He said he has proposed an ordinance that would limit hillside building to one house per two acres to one house per 20 acres, depending on the steepness of the land.

“It would allow occasional homes, but not any kind of subdivision in the hills,” he said of the ordinance, which is expected to come up for a council vote in the next few months.

Wachs said he will also continue to press for more police officers in the district and for a citywide graffiti cleanup program.


Age: 52

Occupation: Los Angeles city councilman for 20 years


Education: UCLA, BA; Harvard Law School, JD; New York University, advanced tax law degree

Home: Studio City