William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

By Catherine Mulholland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The City's Victory
over the “Grand Monopoly”
1901–1902

LAWSUITS AND “CARPING SPIRITS”

At the beginning of 1901, the city was snarled in thirty lawsuits growing out of its struggle for municipal water control. One alone consisted of 10,000 typewritten pages. The cost of all these litigations was draining the city's coffers at a time of economic slump, and in May the council ordered a retrenchment of all city expenses. In the following months, the city and the water company engaged in a kind of high-stakes poker game that called for alertness and skill with each new deal. When a local group called the Mountain Water Company suddenly surfaced with a request for a franchise to lay pipe and supply “pure, soft mountain water” to the city from a source in the San Gabriel Forest Reserve, City Attorney William B. Mathews was at first taken aback. He knew nothing of such a development and wondered if it were not some shrewd new trick of the water company that would involve the city in further legal strife and turmoil. As this mystery remained for the moment unresolved, the city council began to debate whether it should not at last try to settle quickly with the Los Angeles City Water Company. 1

The city at this point had a $30,000 deficit in its cash fund, and the finance committee, seeking means to cut expenses, recommended a compromise with the water company. In the ensuing debate, attorney Mathews spoke out for a continued fight: “Don't give up the ship—fight on, ” he exhorted. “You will never get anything out of the water company until you knock it out with a court decree. ” After a lively debate dur-

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