Richard Close, leader of Valley secession effort, dies at 77

Richard H. Close
Richard H. Close, longtime president of the politically influential Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., died Monday at 77.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Richard Close, who was president of the influential Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. for more than 40 years and led the unsuccessful secession effort to break off the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles, died Monday. He was 77.

Close died of natural causes at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center on Monday, a family representative said.

Close, who lived in Sherman Oaks, chaired the group known as Valley VOTE, counting on angry voters to support a secession effort over their belief that the Valley was not receiving its fair share of city services.


The movement culminated in a ballot measure in 2002 that would have allowed the Valley to leave L.A. and form its own city. While the measure gained a slim majority of the votes in the Valley, it failed by a large margin citywide, sending it to defeat.

Under Close’s leadership, beginning in 1977, the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. became one of the most influential homeowner groups in Los Angeles, pushing anti-tax and anti-density initiatives that helped retain the suburban character of the Valley’s neighborhoods.

Not so many months ago, the city that reinvented the American city seemed destined to take corrective action, rebelling against its own immensity.

Nov. 6, 2002

The group weighs in on local and state issues, most recently lobbying for the Valley to have more political power on the City Council.

During the city’s redistricting process, the group successfully pushed for City Council District 4 — represented by Councilwoman Nithya Raman — to extend its reach in the Valley.

Richard Close
Richard Close, seen above in 1998, was “one of the most consequential citizen advocates in Los Angeles for almost a half a century,” according to former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
(Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Sherman Oaks neighborhood group is a necessary stop for politicians and candidates. At the forums, politicians are quizzed by members on everything from potholes to pension reform. A free dinner, perhaps spaghetti, also comes with the questions.


“This is the old-fashioned way of building relationships,” said state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), who appeared at the forums. “He understood that — that’s the core of who he was. Tell me who else has done that for 40 years?”

Many homeowners associations in Los Angeles have “aged out,” said former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, even as the San Fernando Valley group remained active. Yaroslavsky called Close “one of the most consequential citizen advocates in Los Angeles for almost a half a century.”

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said on Twitter Monday that she first met Close in the early 1990s when they were fighting land-use policies in their respective communities.

“He helped me understand how both of our communities (the Valley and South L.A.) felt left out and marginalized and we supported each other’s efforts,” said Bass, now a candidate for mayor.

Close is survived by his wife, Sally; a son, Matthew Close, and his wife, Tristan; a daughter, Abby Emdur, and her husband, Josh; and four grandsons.

“While he was fully committed to his community and clients, he always made it clear through his words and actions that his family came first and we are going to deeply miss his love, kindness, and sense of humor,” the family said in a statement.


Born and raised in Andover, Mass., Close attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University’s School of Law.

He moved to Southern California with his wife in 1971 and pursued a law career. He worked most recently at international law firm Cozen O’Connor.

Tall and unassuming, Close was unafraid to speak candidly about an L.A. politician’s shortcomings, either to a newspaper reporter or in the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. newsletter.

Some longtime friends said they never knew if Close was a registered Democrat or Republican. “Party affiliation is not important to me,” Close told the Jewish Journal in 2015. “It’s issues that are important to me. And I’ve never been involved in political parties.”

After joining the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. in the 1970s, Close worked to pass Proposition 13. The ballot initiative that limited property tax increases got its start in the Valley after Howard Jarvis, the initiative’s chief sponsor, attended a meeting of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn.

Close also supported Proposition U, a ballot measure passed in 1986 that slowed development, and in particular targeted commercial boulevards in the south San Fernando Valley and Westside.


“Proposition 13 and the cityhood effort stem from the same place,” Close told The Times in 1999. “There is a problem. Government is unwilling to address it. The people are turning to the initiative process to fix it themselves.”