Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
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Water and power networks and urban fragmentation in Los Angeles:
Rethinking assumed mechanisms
Fionn MacKillop a,*, Julie-Anne Boudreau b
University of Durham, Department of Geography Science Site, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
Institut national de la recherche scientiﬁque (INRS), Montreal, Canada
a r t i c l e
i n f o
Received 13 April 2007
Received in revised form 18 June 2008
Water and power networks
a b s t r a c t
Los Angeles is often described as the epitome of urban fragmentation, a notion which in this context is
frequently connected to, or even conﬂated with urban sprawl. At the same time, the city features integrated water and power networks which have been under public ownership for over 70 years. We thus
have an apparent paradox in the context of the debate on ‘splintering urbanism’, between socio-spatial
fragmentation and the integration of networks. In discussing the idea that deregulation of infrastructural
networks exacerbates urban fragmentation, the authors use the case of Los Angeles in order to highlight
the central role of private interests in management decisions concerning infrastructure networks. The
authors carry out their analysis in an historical perspective, revealing that network integration and universal access can often serve private interests more than the public good. Urban fragmentation in Los
Angeles, they conclude, is the result of a complex process of instrumentalisation of network development
Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
In Splintering Urbanism (2001), Graham and Marvin offer an
incisive critique of deregulation and the unequal development of
network infrastructure. Their main thesis is that under the umbrella of a neoliberal ideology and with new mechanisms (deregulation, unbundeling, etc.), infrastructural networks can serve as
powerful instruments of fragmentation, resulting in increasing
inequalities. Our purpose in this paper is to demonstrate that indeed, infrastructural networks are important political instruments
mobilised by elites and decision-makers to further their interests,
often times with fragmenting consequences and increasing
inequalities. This has always been the case, not merely under neoliberalism. However, the use of network management as an instrument of power does not necessarily lead to the expected
fragmentation. In other words, it is not necessarily in the interest
of the elites to deregulate or de-integrate infrastructural networks.
Or, to put it in a more critical perspective, an integrated organisation of networks does not necessarily lead to more urban cohesion
and fewer social inequalities.
This is particularly visible in the case of Los Angeles, a city
which has been described since the 1920s (Deverell and Sitton,
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: ﬁonn.email@example.com (F. MacKillop), Julie-anne.
firstname.lastname@example.org (J.-A. Boudreau).
0016-7185/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
2001), as the cutting edge of the (Western) urban experience, with
its massive conversion to the automobile and its sprawling pattern
of growth that seemed to preﬁgure today’s urban dynamics. In the
context of current debates over the fragmentary tendencies at
work in (urban) societies, it comes as no surprise to see the City
of Angels portrayed as the ‘fragmented metropolis’ par excellence,
to paraphrase Fogelson (1967). More recent research (Davis,
1990) has tended to focus on L.A.’s ‘fragmentation’, linking it to a
wide array of issues: segregation, sprawl, pollution, transportation.
Despite this wide-ranging and long-lasting agreement on the matter, one feels slightly puzzled by this use of the notion of ‘fragmentation’ in this context. Indeed, it often seems to be used as a
byword for a particular kind of sprawl. In effect, L.A. has long been
labelled, not just in popular culture, but also in academic ﬁelds, as
the epitome of the sprawling city (Bruegmann, 2006) with all the
negative stereotypes attached to this. It seems to us that L.A.’s spatial shape is all too rapidly interpreted in social and political terms
as meaning that it is a profoundly de-integrated city, i.e. a fragmented city.
While sprawl as such is not directly our issue here, we discuss
the links between networks, urban sprawl, and urban fragmentation. In relation to the ‘splintering urbanism’ debate, the case of
Los Angeles represents an apparently paradoxical situation where
a city widely characterised as ‘fragmented’ from a socio-political
and spatial point of view, presents a high degree of network integration that even withstood the tide of liberalisation of the
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
Incorporation and secession in California
Who can initiate it?
Incorporation: Creation of a
new municipality on
administered by the
Secession: Creation of a new
separation from an
Is it viable?
– A political entity such as a district or county
can vote a resolution in order to launch the
– Residents can initiate the process by gathering signatures on a petition from at least
25% of residents registered to vote in the sector concerned with incorporation
Residents can initiate the process by gathering
signatures on a petition from at least 25% of
residents registered to vote in the sector
concerned with secession
Demands for incorporation are submitted to a
California agency (LAFCO). They evaluate the
feasibility and revenue-neutrality of the
Incorporation has to be approved by
the voters by a simple majority
Demands for secession are submitted to a
California agency (LAFCO). They evaluate the
feasibility and revenue-neutrality of the
Secession has to be approved by the
voters by a double majority: (1) in the
secessionist area; (2) in the city
affected by secession
1990 s. One of the important and a priori surprising characteristics
of Los Angeles is the fact that its water and power networks are
integrated in one company (the Los Angeles Department of Water
and Power, LADWP) and under municipal management since the
beginning of the 20th century. Of course, to put this in perspective,
it is not uncommon for water to be managed by municipalities in
the United States, but it is probably more so for power, and all
the more uncommon for both services to be provided by the same
municipal company, and over such a long period of time.
We argue here that the development and preservation of integrated and municipal water and power networks supported tendencies towards a particular kind of segregated urban sprawl,
which, in turn, laid the groundwork for other forms of urban fragmentation.1 The latter took the shape of unravelling social and political links. Networked services can thus be made to serve different
goals, and understanding this entails analysing socio-political
dynamics of power surrounding their management. Inspired by regime and growth-machine theories, we demonstrate that the case
of Los Angeles, far from being a paradox, can be explained by analysing long-term links between the elite’s interests in the management
of water and power networks and urban socio-spatial dimensions.
In order to carry out this analysis, we opted for an historical perspective of the role of urban technical networks in the dynamics of
fragmentation.2 We selected two key moments to help us understand how network-related sprawl can be connected to sprawl-related fragmentation: the municipalisation and subsequent
universalisation of water and power in Los Angeles (1890s–1930s),
and, more recently (1990s–2000s), the debate over network deregulation and privatisation in Los Angeles in the context of increasing
fragmenting tendencies. This selection of two key moments is not intended as a comparison: we emphasise these moments because we
have identiﬁed them as two periods when the links between urban
networks, sprawl and fragmentation appear in a particularly strong
and problematical manner and allow us to further the debate on
The paper is organised in two main sections before a long conclusion. We begin with a review of existing work on fragmentation
in Los Angeles (Section 2) in order to set the stage for our focus on
the mechanisms linking fragmenting processes and network management. This enables us, in Section 3, to enter the debate on
Graham and Marvin’s ‘splintering urbanism’ thesis through an
empirical analysis of how water and power networks were integrated in Los Angeles (1890s–1930s) and how this network integration was maintained in a period of otherwise strong
fragmenting tendencies such as deregulation and secession
(1990s–2000s).3 In light of this empirical examination, we discuss
in conclusion the importance of distinguishing between different
types of fragmenting tendencies (urban form, social integration,
and political organisation) and their changing relation with network
management over time. That is, an integrated network can have positive effects on political cohesion at some point in time, but this can
yield negative impacts on the continuity of urban form and on social
inequalities at other times.
We use the typology of fragmentation established by Navez-Bouchanine (2002).
She distinguishes between fragmentation of the urban form, socio-spatial fragmentation, and, political and organisational fragmentation. The fragmentation of the
urban form (commonly identiﬁed with urban sprawl) corresponds to a growing
heterogeneity between city spaces, the multiplication of intra-city boundaries, the
privatisation of public space, as well as deconcentrated and polarised sprawl. Sociospatial fragmentation, on the other hand, refers to increasing inequalities between
parts of the city, the gradual breaking down of social cohesion (or at least of the idea
that the city was once more of a community). Finally, political and organisational
fragmentation is also particularly relevant in the L.A. case. It corresponds to the
multiplication of uncoordinated administrative organisms in the metropolis, such as
the thousands of special-purpose districts in Southern California. Moreover, this
category refers to the process whereby government gradually yields to a rising
involvement of private actors, for instance in the ﬁeld of networked service provision.
Archival work was conducted by the authors for their respective doctoral
dissertations. For the 1990s–2000s period, 4 semi-structured interviews were added
to the 17 interviews conducted by one of the authors for her dissertation on
secessionist movements in Los Angeles.
2.1. Los Angeles and the fragmentation of urban form: precocious postsuburbanisation
2. Fragmenting tendencies in Los Angeles: Urban form, social
ties, and political organisation
Los Angeles, as already noted, has been at the centre of numerous studies of fragmentation, often coated with an alarmist overtone. Our purpose here is not to offer a complete review of this
work. However, given that we aim to use the case of Los Angeles
in order to nuance the causal relationship between deregulated
and de-integrated infrastructural networks and urban fragmentation proposed by Graham and Marvin (2001), it is important to rapidly review some of the main diagnostics of fragmentation in L.A.
Let us simply categorise this abundant work in three types of fragmenting tendencies (Navez-Bouchanine, 2002): urban form, social
ties, and political organisation.
When one thinks of fragmentation of the urban form, sprawl is
the ﬁrst idea that comes to mind. From a spatial point of view,
sprawl is mostly described as the result of a massive suburbanisation (Bruegmann, 2006). The latter is often portrayed as a post-war
phenomenon, with, for instance, in the case of California, the G.I.
Bill and its subsidies for returning servicemen, and massive free3
In the 1990s, the City of L.A. had to face three important secessionist claims,
whereby parts of the municipal territory would have been separated from the existing
municipality and incorporated into a new autonomous city if the voters had approved
the initiative (see Table 1 for an explanation of the legal nuances between secession
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
way construction programmes. However, L.A. emerged as a ‘city of
suburbs’ much earlier, in the 1920s, when White elites began to
settle away from downtown with dreams of being closer to ‘nature’, in single-family housing, away from other ethnic groups.
The post-war trend towards urban sprawl is therefore better characterised as a process of post-suburbanisation. Indeed, while the
turn of the century suburb depended on the central city for work,
cultural activities, and administrative services, post-war peripheral
settlements were characterised by residential, industrial, commercial, cultural, and administrative decentralisation, thus ending the
pattern of suburban dependency on the central city (Deverell and
Sitton, 2001; Fishman, 1987; Jackson, 1985). The process of postsuburbanisation saw the gradual fall of downtown as a focal point
for the metropolis, from an economic, cultural and symbolic point
of view. Until then, for instance, transportation networks were centred around downtown (the Los Angeles tramway network, at its
acme, illustrated this). With the advent of the automobile, transportation networks were intentionally decentralised. The historical
downtown was thus increasingly bypassed, in favour of an everincreasing number of ‘mini-downtowns’ with their own cultural
institutions and a thriving neighbourhood life that displaced central L.A. in material, but also symbolic terms.
In L.A., as early as the 1930s, post-suburbanisation became the
main deﬁning process of urbanisation. In other words, urban
sprawl in L.A. was caused by more than a ‘bourgeois utopia’
(Fishman, 1987); it was a planned process of deconcentration
(Hise, 1997). This gradual and precocious deconcentration of
housing, and then industry, followed by parts of the administration, are the characteristics of fragmentation in Los Angeles as
deﬁned by Robert Fogelson in his classical study (Fogelson, 1967).
2.2. Los Angeles and the fragmentation of social ties: racial tensions
and the ‘fortress city’
Pulido (2000) explains that sprawl, or, rather, planned deconcentration, was based on a desire to escape downtown congestion
and to provide a good quality of life to White workers, concerns
which intensiﬁed after the 1965 Watts rebellion (Pulido, 2000).
Los Angeles had been characterised by racial and class tensions
from the beginning of its US history (i.e. from the 1850s), creating
a segregated residential landscape. Developers were able to enforce residential segregation through strict deed restrictions
(Abu-Lughod, 1999). The ‘redlining’ practices of the Home Owners
Loan Corporation (HOLC), which ranked neighbourhoods along racial lines, had the effect of pushing economic development out of
central city neighbourhoods (Pulido, 2000).
While redlining was declared illegal as a result of the civil rights
movement, segregation pursued its course with the appearance of
gated communities in the Palos Verdes peninsula, west San
Fernando Valley and adjacent Ventura County (Soja, 2000,
p. 317). This kind of residential development is in fact a more extreme version of the widespread process of gentriﬁcation and the
appearance of ‘premium networked spaces’ and other mechanisms
of social control (Davis, 1990; Graham and Marvin, 2001). These
dynamics have led many observers to speak of a ‘fortress city’
(Davis, 1990) and ‘defensive architecture’ (Graham and Marvin,
2001). These processes of deconcentration, both residential and
industrial, and the dynamics of racial and class tensions, reached
their acme in cyclical incorporation rushes, or, alternatively, in
2.3. Los Angeles and the fragmentation of political organisation: tax
revolts and the lack of social solidarity
Incorporation is when the majority of the population in an area
votes to become a city, with the prerogatives enjoyed by city gov-
ernments in California, such as home-rule and control over taxation rates and resources. This incorporation can occur from
scratch, in the case of a previously unincorporated (county) territory, or as the result of secession from an established municipality
A ﬁrst cycle of incorporations began at the turn of the century
and lasted until the 1930s. For many incorporationists, it was a
means to exclude saloons and other ‘immoral’ venues or to improve municipal services. Real-estate developers and land-use concerns also played a central role in many incorporation movements.
The apprehension of being annexed by the City of Los Angeles or
other larger cities such as Long Beach or Pasadena, precipitated
several other incorporation movements. From the onset, the
dynamics of incorporations were connected to the provision of
water. Indeed, many communities were annexed to larger cities,
especially Los Angeles, to obtain water they had been unable or
unwilling to procure.
Incorporation activity dropped between 1930 and 1954, due to
the Depression and the preference for special purpose districts for
service provision. The postwar period was characterised by a spectacular boom in suburban real-estate development and large-scale
tract subdivisions on which lower middle-class and middle-class
homes mushroomed at an impressive pace (Hoch, 1984; Waldie,
1997). It is in this context that the Lakewood Plan was crafted in
1954, under the initiative of incorporationists in the newly-built
subdivided tracts. The plan allowed the county to keep control over
services while permitting the incorporation of smaller cities, a
good way to stop the growth of the City of Los Angeles, because
incorporated territories could resist absorption.4 As Miller demonstrates, 33 incorporations (1954–1980) in Los Angeles County were
motivated ﬁrst and foremost by a desire to avoid taxes: afﬂuent
areas, or those dominated by business or industry (the post-Lakewood cities of Commerce and Industry are a case in point) incorporated to avoid having to pay for less well-off citizens, or simply to
not have to provide any services at all (the city of Vernon, for
instance, has only a handful of residents). Control over land use, a
primary motivation for earlier incorporations, came far behind
Incorporation slowed down a little in Los Angeles County in the
1980s, while it continued in Orange County following population
growth and development of suburban communities there.5 More
visible than incorporations though, the 1990s brought a resurgence
of secessionist claims. ‘Secession’ is a different process than incorporation as it involves breaking apart from an established municipality
and re-incorporating as a new one. It occurred only twice in California history, once in San Diego, with the detachment of Coronado in
1890, after the ﬁrst beach resort was built. The second case was in
Los Angeles County with the amicable detachment of Montebello
from Monterey Park in 1920 (Bigger and Kitchen, 1952; Abu-Lughod,
Aside from those political aspects, it is important to note that annexations to the
City of Los Angeles also stopped because the city no longer held such sway over
regional water resources. Indeed, the completion, in 1940, of the Colorado River
aqueduct (Mulholland, 2001) effectively created a ‘water wall’ (Erie, 2006) around Los
Angeles municipal boundaries, because water management was mutualised through
the creation of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD or Met),
adding yet another layer to the already complex regional infrastructure of water
supply. Likewise, the electricity sector in southern California was from the onset
divided among several private companies (MacKillop, 2003) that supplied different
communities, but the political drive for municipal power provision was much weaker,
and therefore power provision was not related to the annexation (or resistance to
annexation) of communities to the City of Los Angeles.
An exception to the relative incorporation quietness of the 1980s in Los Angeles
County was the incorporation of West Hollywood in 1984.
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
Triggered by a change in state legislation easing secession in
1997, secessionist movements surfaced in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, the Harbor area, Eagle Rock, Venice, Mt. Washington, South Central. But the only two secessionist movements that
were able to secure enough signatures and progress to the next
stages of the new secession procedure established in 1997 were
the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood, although the Harbor
movement came very close as well. As we shall analyse later,
water and power networks and their management played an
important role in the dynamics of secession, as they did in that
of annexation (see Fig. 1).
Sprawl, racial tensions, and tax revolts are often what fragmentation means in Los Angeles. A quintessential image of fragmentation, we thus chose Los Angeles as our case study to engage in the
‘splintering urbanism’ debate. In their provoking and thoughtful
argument, Graham and Marvin (2001) suggest one possible explanation of such fragmentation: deregulation and de-integration of
infrastructural networks would either cause, or at least exacerbate, such spatial, social, and political processes of urban fragmentation. While they develop this argument based on numerous
cases, we offer here a reﬂection on their proposal from a different
approach based on an in-depth single case study and a historical
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO
UNIVERSAL C ITY
CITY OF LOS ANGELES
San Fernando Valley secessionist area
Hollywood secessionist area
Harbor secessionist area
Municipal boundaries before secession
Boundaries of proposed cities
LA R AMBLA
Sources: Clarke 2002, Calemine 2002, Los Angeles Times 2002, and LAFCO 2002
Conception and realization by JA. Boudreau
Fig. 1. Secessionist movements.
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
analysis. This enables us to add other dimensions to their
3. ‘Splintering urbanism’ in Los Angeles: an historical analysis of
the role of water and power networks
In order to better understand fragmenting tendencies in Los
Angeles and the speciﬁc role of water and power networks, we
posit as a starting hypothesis that the creation and endurance
of an integrated and public network is not the product of a universalist belief in the public interest, but rather of a state developmental strategy aiming to serve private interests. This use of
public institutions to favour business efﬁciency, would in turn result from strong growth coalitions between locally-embedded
business and municipal actors. Indeed, to understand how water
and power networks (in this case, but the analysis can apply to
other networks in other spatial and/or historical contexts) can
mediate socio-political and spatial dimensions of urban life, it is
fundamental to analyse the issue of power in relation to network
management. Such a perspective, of course, has been thoroughly
developed in the literature on urban regimes (Stone, 1989) and
‘growth machines’ (Molotch, 1976), which analyses how coalitions of urban elites (from the business and/or political spheres)
muster public resources to achieve private goals. The literature
also analyses how these coalitions succeed in obtaining wideranging public support in the community, and create a sense of
purpose that cements the coalition over sometimes very long
periods, such as in the classical case of Atlanta described by Stone
(1989). Coalitions and their dynamics have an impact on the built
environment of cities, through the policies that are enacted. In
the case of Los Angeles, there was an oligarchy of businessmen
that contributed to shaping water policy and, through it, land
use at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the 20th century. Although this oligarchy subsequently declined and growth
coalitions are much more fragmented in the city and region today, we will see that groups of actors pursuing private interests
still shape public policy in signiﬁcant ways, including network
service provision and its socio-spatial impacts.
3.1. Understanding how water and power networks shape the urban
Our primary focus in analysing this ﬁrst historical period is to
illustrate how the development of water and power networks
was intimately linked to both fragmenting and integrating processes. Indeed, water and power networks enabled sprawl, while
permitting organisational and political integration through annexations. We will see later how in the more recent period, these infrastructural networks contributed to political integration in the face
of secessionist threats. L.A. illustrates how integrated infrastructure and service provision are no guaranty of urban cohesion, as often assumed in the ‘splintering urbanism’ debate. When and where
integrated infrastructural networks contribute to preventing fragmentation, they rarely do so in the name of a universalistic belief
in the public good and the reduction of social inequalities.
3.1.1. Sprawl, urban networks, and cultural factors
We do not imply here that water and power networks were the
only factor in urban sprawl, or indeed that they ‘caused’ sprawl,
let alone fragmentation. Indeed, sprawl in the City of Angels is also
linked to the history of transportation. First with the tram lines
developed from the end of the 19th century with funding from
real-estate and business magnates such as Moses Sherman or the
pervasive Southern Paciﬁc railway company, as part of a strategy
of relentless land development. Then, from the 1920s, with the ra-
pid rise of the automobile and public policies6 that deliberately sacriﬁced public transportation, sprawl emerged on a wider scale, in an
even more uncoordinated and sometimes chaotic manner.
But, behind this oft-stressed importance of transportation
modes and infrastructure, lie deep-seated ideologies: that of the
‘garden city’ advocated by L.A.’s ‘founding fathers’ and embraced
by the Midwesterners that peopled the city in waves from the
1880s. These relatively wealthy people came in search of the ‘good
life’ (McWilliams, 1946): the best of city and country, without the
density identiﬁed with ‘decaying’ East coast cities (Starr, 1990). L.A.
was the ﬁrst city to be sold to the country as a resort, by an enterprising oligarchy of businessmen7 who touted its climate, natural
beauty and an ‘open shop’ approach to business.8
3.1.2. The pivotal role of water and power
However, it is necessary to take into account the history of
water provision, and to a lesser extent, power provision. Indeed,
one must keep in mind that such a pattern of deconcentrated
development would not have been possible in the semi-arid settings of Los Angeles without a good water supply and efﬁcient
water distribution system, covering the whole city and its everexpanding subdivisions. This suggests ties between the
development-oriented oligarchy, and the planning of water supply
and distribution (Kahrl, 1986; Mulholland, 2001; Erie, 2006),
pointing once more to the local political context. The latter can
be deﬁned as a regime (Stone, 1989; Dowding, 2001) due to the
process and characteristics of bargaining between public and private interests, the role of business, and the relatively long-lived
consensus on growth, its tools, and its socio-political goals. What’s
more, L.A. could not have become the industrial powerhouse, or, in
other terms, a ‘mercantile’ regime (Kantor et al., 1997), without a
good power supply too, which was instrumental in attracting
industry. Moreover, industry siting and workforce housing played
a key role in the acceleration of sprawl coupled with the deconcentration of activities in the city of Los Angeles(Deverell and Sitton,
2001). Industry was thus able to settle throughout Los Angeles
and contribute, in a cumulative process (as described earlier), to
a sprawling, and ultimately, fragmenting city, due to the development of water and power networks. The latter did not follow housing and industry, but preceded them and opened up the city’s
territory to deconcentrated growth, whilst transportation, in a dialectic process, built upon the opportunities offered by increasingly
widespread water availability. A closer look at the history of water
and power network development in L.A. can help us analyse this
point and emphasise the importance of the local context and its
evolution. We distinguish between different periods, as water
and power networks did not always play the same role in relation
Between the annexation of California, in 1850, to the turn of the
century (MacKillop, 2003; Mulholland, 2001), water was under private management in Los Angeles: private individuals ﬁrst, and then
the Los Angeles City Water Company (LACWC) incorporated in the
1860s, which represented an evolution towards more professional
water management. But the narrow focus on ﬁnancial returns
precluded the necessary investments, thus impeding more than
Such as the Major Trafﬁc Street Plan of 1925 which set forth an ambitious
programme of urban freeways to adapt Los Angeles to the automobile.
This oligarchy was composed of ﬁgures such as Harrison Otis, editor of the Los
Angeles Times, and his son-in-law Chandler; together with other developers, bankers
and politicians, they formed a ‘power structure’ (Davis, 1998) that advocated neverending growth of Los Angeles; indeed, their personal fortune was linked to that of the
The promotion of Los Angeles was summed up in the slogan ‘Oranges for Health –
Southern California for Wealth!’ coined by the Los Angles Chamber of Commerce, and
carried by trains loaded with oranges which crossed the country (especially the
Midwest) at the end of the 19th century.
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
stimulating growth, let alone sprawl. Transportation and real
estate moguls played a greater role at the time, often leaving developments without water to sustain them. This situation hit the
worse-off harder, as many inhabitants had to resort to water carriers(Mulholland, 2001), although some wealthy neighbourhoods
were also affected. In the case of power networks, which started
to develop in the 1880s, and were quickly divided between Southern California Edison, Los Angeles Power and Electric and Paciﬁc
Gas and Electric, all private companies, the same pattern of insufﬁcient coverage appeared. However development of the network
proceeded rather fast, due to the fact that power networks are relatively easier and cheaper to set up than water networks, and
played a less strategic role in the development of L.A. Investments
tended to concentrate on proﬁtable areas, such as the downtown
business district, which beneﬁted ﬁrst from modern technologies.
Thus, in the early days (1850–1900), water and power networks
seem to have played a limited role in urban sprawl: although they
tended to catch up on urban development, they were not ahead of
it, especially during the several periods of population booms that
characterised a speculative economy. The fact that networks were
not up to the task was made manifest by reactions of the population in general, and of the business oligarchy, joined by the political
world, in particular. Dissatisfaction focused on the costly and generally antiquated water supply, as well as the fact that the LACWC
had shown itself incapable of and/or or unwilling to, procure a
new, larger water supply than that of the Los Angeles River and local aquifers. The business and political elites, and the population in
general, agreed on the idea that Los Angeles was to become ‘the
greatest city in the world’ (McWilliams, 1946) and therefore required a water supply adequate to this destiny. Thus, in reaction
to the apparent inertia of the LACWC, the water service was municipalised at the turn of the century. Eventually, the power system
would be too, albeit more slowly and with greater controversy
(municipalisation of power was achieved in 1936). The fact that
water and power were municipalised in the ﬁrst place, in a city
known for its socially conservative, pro-business mores, on the
one hand, but also the discrepancy in the chronology between
municipalisation of the two networks on the other hand, must be
analysed with more detail to understand how a connection between networks and sprawl was historically forged in L.A.
In 1902, by referendum,9 the population of Los Angeles massively accepted the municipalisation of the LACWC. Moreover, municipal control was actively supported by the Los Angeles Times, owned
by Otis, a leading ﬁgure of the business oligarchy, always ready to
violently denounce rampant ‘socialism’ in his leaders (McWilliams,
1946). Thus, the oligarchy found itself supporting municipal control
together with the Progressive10 politicians of the city, some of which
were also rather conservative businessmen, but others, such as John
Randolph Haynes, were more left-leaning and would later face the
wrath of Otis (Deverell, 1994). How can we explain this wide-ranging support, and what did the advent of municipal management
change concerning the relationship between networks and processes
of sprawl and fragmentation? On the part of the oligarchy, support
for municipal management was clearly a very pragmatic move,
based on the failure of the LACWC to ensure the growth of the city
and its business. A municipal utility would beneﬁt from community
resources (bond issues to fund improvements) and would thus be
able to invest more than the LACWC was willing to. Furthermore,
California law requires a 2/3 voter majority for any project implying city
indebtedness, which was the case here, as L.A. issued bonds to pay for the purchase of
the LACWC, its rights to water, and its infrastructure.
Progressivism was a very important movement in Californian politics from the
1880s to the 1920s; Progressives consisted mainly of Republicans who advocated a
more professional politics, based on scientiﬁc knowledge, rationality and an apolitical
approach to local affairs. The movement featured varying sensitivities from more
conservative to more liberal.
the oligarchy had certain provisions included in the management
of the new Bureau of Water Works and Supply: a panel, selected
by the mayor, would manage the utility, keeping it ‘out of politics’.
Indeed, the ﬁrst panel nominees were considered by Mulholland,
the former superintendent of the LACWC freshly named to the position of Chief Engineer of the municipal utility,11 a body of ‘ﬁne businessmen’, with ﬁgures such as Moses Sherman, head of a big
streetcar company and involved in several real estate projects, together with other prominent bankers and real estate interests (Mulholland, 2001).
The big change in policy brought by the municipal utility was in
developing a new water supply which allowed the city to expand.
Mulholland set himself to the task selecting the Owens River, several hundred miles away, as the best option. A gigantic aqueduct
was built between 1906 and 1913. When it came online,12 the oligarchy, aware of municipal plans since they were on the board of the
utility, started to purchase relatively cheap land in the then-arid San
Fernando Valley north of the city, to speculate on its value. The vast
valley is now the epitome of suburbia,13 with miles upon miles of
commercial strips and mini-malls. Real estate moguls, with their
control of the land as well as transportation networks, paved the
way for this, and needed cheap and abundant water to do it. But this
major new supply would not have played the same role without
pipes to deliver it throughout the expanding city. Indeed, heated debates took place over the modalities of network planning and funding (MacKillop, 2003). Mulholland apparently advocated a more
concentrated, compact design to ﬁll in the holes in the cityscape,
but a more spread-out pattern ﬁnally emerged to allow for wideranging development (ibid.). The oligarchy had clearly pursued its
interests in advocating municipal control. But the Progressives were
also quite content, as Owens Valley water had another effect: territories began to annex to the city, in order to beneﬁt from the boom;
in the 1910s, the city’s surface doubled. This satisﬁed the desire for
an ‘imperial Los Angeles’ (Starr, 1990), and also shows that networks
played a role in territorial integration, at that period, paving the way
for a metropolitan Los Angeles. Thus, the municipalisation of water,
and the network development policies pursued by the department,
did not just open up new territories for development, and, ultimately, support sprawl: the annexations brought political integration of outlying communities into the city of Los Angeles.
The new territories opened up by the aqueduct would not begin
to really ﬁll in before the boom of the 1940s, but settlements already emerged, around agricultural activities essentially, creating
a pattern of low density, deconcentrated urbanisation. Indeed,
throughout the city, heavy investments and personal dedication
(embodied by Mulholland at the head of the water department) allowed for universal access to a dependable and cheaper water service, stimulating growth and also making more and more areas
(such as hills and previously badly-supplied zones) available for
development. This combined with a mindset favouring low density
to produce an ever-deconcentrating city.
The same goes for power under municipal control, although this
was achieved with greater difﬁculty. Indeed, several private power
companies, with ties to the local oligarchy, were operating in the
city of Los Angeles when the aqueduct was being developed. At
ﬁrst, there was no question of the city going into the power business, although municipally-generated power was used in the
building of the aqueduct. Yet, the immense potential of the aqueduct as a source of hydropower led the city to gradually enter
the market in the 1910s, becoming a de facto competitor for private
This illustrates the very ‘incremental’ approach that characterised municipalisation: it was no ‘revolution’, and the structures of the private utility only underwent
It was at the time the biggest public works project in the world.
This city is a focal point of the secessionist movement, as we shall see later.
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
interests, with an important edge due to cheap generation. This led
to a collision with the oligarchy, which consistently criticised municipal power, branded as dangerous ‘socialism’ by Otis in his Los
Angeles Times. Nevertheless, private utilities were gradually taken
over, as they could not face the competition nor manage to purchase the city’s generation capacities. In 1934, the last private utility, Paciﬁc Gas and Electric, was taken over. Indeed, power, from a
by-product of water management, had become a crucial business
for the city. It generated cross-subsidies for the costly water network. Moreover, it was key to L.A. becoming an industrial metropolis in the ‘balanced growth’ perspective, helping to attract
industries such as tyres, automobile, aeronautics or even military
bases. Thus, the case for a uniﬁed utility controlling water and
power in Los Angeles was strong, giving birth in 1936 to the
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as it is still called today. The development of power production and distribution under
municipal management mirrored the pattern followed by water:
heavy investments, modernisation, innovative tariff structures,
aggressive customer base building (MacKillop, 2003). The development of such an efﬁcient power network was the next step in producing a deconcentrated city, as sprawl accelerated with the
growth of industry, which scattered throughout the city, enjoying
the abundance of available land, and its connection to good water
and power networks.
3.1.3. Water and power networks between fragmentation and
Thus, we can see that the development of water and power networks in Los Angeles from the turn of the century to the 1930s, together with a mindset favourable to low density settlement, and in
the speciﬁc political context of the time, combined to support
sprawl. The groundwork was laid for even more sprawl after World
War II, and a growing feeling of an unravelling city, not only in its
shape, but also socially and politically, as the 1965 riots, for instance, would dramatically illustrate.
However, networks played an important role in forging political
integration with outlying territories and contributing to the emergence of a politically and ﬁscally uniﬁed city, in contrast to the
multiplication of incorporations from the 1950s. Therefore, policies
in the ﬁeld of networks in Los Angeles saw the gradual political and
territorial integration of the city, whilst also supporting tendencies
towards social and symbolic fragmentation. Indeed, the universal
availability of water and power at relatively cheap rates and with
good quality of service provided the physical infrastructure for
the advancement of an explicit project of physical deconcentration.
After having analysed the historically crucial period of the
municipalisation of water and power, we will now focus on the
equally important decade of the 1990s. Indeed, whereas municipalisation saw the emergence of the mode of governance that
would characterise the LADWP for several decades, the 1990s were
a moment of turmoil, that threatened to unravel the organisation
of the municipal department and its relationship with the city
and its development patterns.
3.2. The sustained integration of network management in a period of
We now jump several decades, not so much because nothing
happened between 1920 and 1990, but to focus on another intense
and fundamental period of debates around water and power networks. Indeed, in the seventy years between our two historical
periods, the management of water and power networks in L.A.
was consolidated rather than challenged.
Just as in the 1920s, the 1990s was a period of demographic
growth. The city-region was also dealing with a series of socio-ecological disasters (the Malibu ﬁres of 1993 and 1996, the Northridge
earthquake of 1994). A climate of racial tensions culminated in the
1992 riots. Right-wing politicians and activists responded with
anti-immigration measures (Propositions 187, 226, 209). Privatisation and neoliberalisation reigned. At ﬁrst glance, it seems surprising that L.A. decided to maintain a municipalised water and power
system in this context. However, as it will become clear, just as in
the 1920s, municipal water and power services were not (mainly) a
result of a belief in the inherent beneﬁts of serving the public interest, but rather a means to serve private businesses efﬁciently.
3.2.1. The decision not to privatise the DWP
In 1996, the California legislature unanimously voted to deregulate the electric power market (AB1890). Investor-owned utilities
(IOU) such as Paciﬁc Gas, Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric
were forced to break their monopoly by opening their service area
to competition and separating generation and transmission functions, a process known as unbundling. IOUs did not oppose the legislation given that they could recover losses in proﬁts caused by
the breakdown of their monopoly through a competitive transition
charge (CTC). Publicly-owned utilities such as the DWP had the
choice to follow or not.14 In 1997, the L.A. municipal council decided
not to deregulate.
AB1890 was based on the generally consensual idea that competition would lower rates. Despite the decision not to deregulate,
the new legislation nevertheless prompted a debate on the governance of the DWP in order to prepare the municipal enterprise to
face the pressures of a new competitive market. Indeed, DWP
commercial and industrial rates were higher in order to subsidise
residential rates, as is generally the case in the ‘‘modern infrastructural ideal” characterised by a belief in the virtues of public governance and universal access. Many were afraid that these higher
rates would drive ﬁrms to move outside of the DWP’s service area
in order to beneﬁt from (expected) lower rates in deregulated
areas.15 According to the DWP, difﬁculties in competing with private
utilities were caused by: (1) its obligation to keep residential rates
down (due to electoral pressure) and commercial and industrial
rates high; (2) difﬁculties in ﬁnancing its high stranded costs ($4
In 1997, there was a generalised consensus on the beneﬁts of
deregulation. The DWP was following the mood, but L.A. Council
refused to go as far as deregulation (while it did accept many
DWP internal restructuring changes to ‘enhance competitiveness’).
Council’s rationale was that it did not make sense to sell lucrative
assets such as the DWP, particularly when there was no electoral
pressure to do so. Nobody at the time was anticipating the 2000–
2001 ﬁasco. With the blackouts hitting deregulated sectors during
those years, the DWP made $2 billion in proﬁts by selling its surplus at the same advantageous rate L.A. residents were enjoying.17
The 2000–2001 DWP annual report explains this policy in terms of
the need to be accountable to the people as a public agency.18
According to the home rule principle, the California legislature cannot interfere in
municipal affairs and must respect city charters. Municipal services are thus
accountable only to Council and the mayor.
The DWP estimated that its generation costs were twice as high as anticipated
rates in a deregulated market (Department of Water and Power, 1997, p. 12).
Stranded costs refer to the difﬁculties utility companies have in reimbursing
debts accumulated for their investment in plants and equipment because customers
switch to other providers, thus leaving the company alone to pay back its debts for
the plants that were built to serve them.
Starting in June 2000, intentionally-engineered power outage hit several thousand customers several times over a year-long period. This was a response to the
inability to meet demand for electricity because of insufﬁcient supply and price
LADWP put people ahead of proﬁts through its ‘Power California First!’ policy and
always said yes in providing out extra energy when other generators turned their
backs during California’s time of greatest needs’ (Department of Water and Power,
2002a, p. 2).
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
In brief, the role of DWP bureaucrats was central in elaborating
a universalist discourse on the public good in order to legitimate a
decision that was essentially aimed at creating more revenue for
the City of L.A. (at least from the point of view of the Council). Indeed, the decision not to deregulate was mostly motivated by the
fear of losing an important revenue source for the City of L.A., as
well as the power to control electricity rates (something that can
come handy in electoral campaigns). Indeed, the City of L.A. has
three ﬁnancially independent proprietary departments: the DWP,
LAX (the international airport), and the Harbor. These departments
manage their own budget, assets and liabilities; and they transfer
funds to the City budget. They have a combined annual budget of
$4 billion ($2.95 billion for the DWP alone in 2001–2002), which
is about the equivalent of the City of L.A.’s general funds budget.
The DWP has about 7500 employees, more than the Los Angeles
Police Department. These proprietary departments are thus very
powerful and important. They are nevertheless not politically
autonomous. A Board of Commissioners governs them, but daily
management is ensured by the executive director (appointed by
the mayor with the approval of Council). Rates and the amount
of annual transfers to the City budget are controlled by Council.19
But debates around deregulation have given DWP bureaucrats, and
executive director D. Freeman in particular, the opportunity to claim
more autonomy from Council. He argued:
We face a change of circumstances in our industry that is
akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fierce competitors are preparing to lure away commercial and industrial customers
who represent 2/3 of our $2.4 billion annual electric sales.
We must have a governance structure that will make sure
that we can compete, and preserve the beneﬁts to the City
that ﬂow from those sales (Freeman, 1998, p. 5).
Similarly, Water and Power Associates, a non-proﬁt formed out of
former DWP bureaucrats in order to defend public utilities,
The Department of Water and Power (DWP) needs to be able
to respond like a business. The DWP also needs to reach
decisions within the purifying light of public scrutiny. A public forum is important to give people the advantage of access.
As the DWP enters the uncharted waters of deregulation, it
should function more like a business, with decisions that
are free from daily politics (deposition by Ken Downey,
President of Water and Power Associates, quoted in City of
Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, 1998, p. 19).
While these tensions between City Hall and the DWP remained
downtown-centred, discontent against this concentrated power
had been growing in the 1990s, culminating in secessionist referenda in November 2002. Indeed, the roots of the secessionist movement is resentment against the old downtown oligarchy (or growth
3.2.2. Secessionist movements
Secessionism arose in various parts of the city, but appeared on
the ballot only in the San Fernando Valley (36% of the City of L.A.
population, 45% of its land area) and in Hollywood (183,000 residents, 4% of the City of L.A.’s land area and about 4% of the city’s
population). In both cases, it was defeated.20 Water and power net19
In 2000–2001, proﬁts from the sale of surplus electricity to areas affected by
blackouts increased transfers to the City of L.A. to $206 million. Projections for 2002–
2003 were $185 million (Department of Water and Power, 2002b, pp. 25–26).
In order to pass, secession had to be approved by a double majority: (1) in the
area claiming secession (support ranged from 51% in the San Fernando Valley to 31%
in Hollywood); (2) in the City as a whole (74% opposed secession). This very narrow
majority in the San Fernando Valley was heavily concentrated in the western,
works are signiﬁcantly intertwined with the dynamics of the secessionist process: LAFCO (the California state agency charged with
reviewing the feasibility of secession) decided that if secession was
to occur, the DWP would not be divided between the remaining City
of L.A. and the new cities. This would have led to a publicly-owned,
integrated utility, servicing a fragmented political and ﬁscal territory. Private utilities often deal with more than one municipal jurisdiction within their service area; but in this case, it would have
occurred for a public agency, which is generally based on the principle of political and ﬁscal solidarity.
According to Larry Calemine, executive ofﬁcer of LAFCO, it did
not have the authority to change the laws regulating the DWP because the City of L.A. had received exclusive water rights on the L.A.
River basin dating back to the Spanish colonisation. The complexity
of the legal apparatus concerning water was too great to attempt to
break up the supplier (interview with Larry Calemine, June 12,
2003). Other interviews nevertheless revealed that LAFCO were
initially open to secessionist claims over DWP assets and infrastructure located within secessionist areas and their demands for
joint authority over the DWP (interview with Xandra Kayden,
UCLA professor and policy analyst, June 11, 2003). In the end, LAFCO’s decision was the following: in the advent of secession: (1) the
DWP would keep all its assets and remain accountable to the City
of L.A. Council and Mayor; (2) new cities would compensate the
DWP for past debts; (3) new cities would be required to contract
with the DWP for water in order to ensure a stable customer base;
(4) the DWP would be required to offer water at the same rate as
for L.A. residents. This last element launched a public debate that
eventually played against secessionists. Indeed, L.A. Council resented the idea of not being able to control rates offered to a future
new city. They ﬁrst contested LAFCO’s power to impose the same
rate structure; then they argued that even if it was decided that
LAFCO had that authority, there were many ways to go around this.
For example, given that residents of a new city would not receive
their water from the L.A. River (given that L.A. residents have
exclusive rights over the river), the DWP would be forced to impose higher rates in a new city in proportion to the higher costs
of these alternative sources.21 Moreover, should property tax
exemptions not be provided for DWP facilities in new cities, then
residents from these new cities would need to cover these extra
costs in their rates (interview with Richard Helgeson, general counsel for the DWP, June 16, 2003). Finally, costs from used water treatment would increase in a new San Fernando Valley city given that
L.A. Council could easily decide to base its rate structure on summer
usage. Indeed, residents in a new city would be subject to L.A.
Council decisions without being able to respond given that they
would not have electoral power in L.A. anymore. The San Fernando
Valley is much more sprawling than the rest of the City of L.A., lots
are bigger, summer temperatures are higher. All these factors contribute to a much heavier water consumption, which is currently
subsidised by areas of L.A. where consumption is lower (all L.A.
esidents enjoy the same rates, irrespective of volume and costs).22
As Water and Power Associates argue:
Elected ofﬁcials will recognise they can shift costs from the
voters that elect them to those that have no vote and they
will act in their own political interest and take care of their
voting constituents. For similar reasons the Valley and
Hollywood should expect deteriorating reliability and
slower restoration of service during storms and natural
Approximately 13% of the water distributed by the DWP comes from the L.A.
River, 48% is bought by the DWP from the Metropolitan Water District. The latter is
about a quarter more expensive, in operating costs, than the former.
The San Fernando Valley represents about 40% of DWP’s water sales, and $200
million of revenue annually (League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, 2002).
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
disasters as the City’s leadership gives higher priority and
more resources to Los Angeles voters (Water and Power
Associates, 2002, pp. 18–19).
In addition to these arguments against secession in terms of political access to decisions about water rates, anti-secessionists further
argued that dividing the DWP would be impossible given the technical complexity of the system. Moreover, many commentators predicted endless legal battles (One Los Angeles, 2002; League of
Women Voters of Los Angeles, 2002).
In brief, the water question played against secessionists. Voters
were afraid of jeopardising quality, reliability, political access to
decision making, and higher rates.
4. Conclusion: the political role of network governance
In the context of Los Angeles, universal access to networks and
public management are quite compatible with fragmentary tendencies, albeit through a complex process: in the short term, water
and power networks in Los Angeles were a factor of integration,
but gradually the network’s accessibility and quality supported
the emergence on an unprecedented scale of a low-density, polycentric and fragmented metropolis. In the long run, the fear of losing the suburban dream made possible on a grand scale by the
development of water and power networks led to fragmentary tendencies, of which secessionist movements are the most acute
example, but not the only one. All considered it is not that surprising that in the case of Los Angeles integrated networks should be
linked to such fragmentary tendencies, as the emergence and preservation of integrated municipal network provision must be seen
in relation to a particular local context which called for the emergence of such a city.
This can be connected to differing conceptions of the idea of urban cohesion: whereas in Western Europe, it refers to the notion of
an urban society and is intimately connected to efforts directed at
ensuring a modicum of equality between city dwellers, in the context of Los Angeles, we see that the integration achieved and sustained through network policies inter alia is of a different nature.
Indeed, it was long part of an ‘imperial’ approach, the desire to
build an economic and political powerhouse in California, which
required the accumulation of resources, especially water, to ensure
sustained growth in an unlikely physical setting. Moreover, the
integration of various territories achieved through water and
power networks was also part of the accumulation of power and
wealth by the city’s business elite: the availability of water played
a crucial role in the development of the San Fernando Valley, as
well as countless subdivisions that brought wealth to developers,
bankers and transportation interests. When the threat of secession
grew louder and louder, maintaining the integrated form of Los
Angeles, and thus of its water and power networks, was intimately
connected to issues of revenue protection for the city, as water and
power are also a lucrative business for the city’s government. Thus,
integrated water and power provision, as well as a nominally integrated metropolis, in part achieved thanks to the former, are compatible with growing social, cultural, racial, and other forms of
4.1. The role of water and power networks in urban sprawl
Technical developments (such as the construction of water and
power networks) are obviously not the only factor explaining
sprawl in L.A. Yet, they can be viewed as powerful ‘technologies
of deconcentration’ (Fishman, 1987) used in support of a social
ideal: the American Dream of suburban life. The story of L.A. demonstrates how public power was used to further this ideal and support private accumulation by the same token. The municipalisation
of water and electricity can be seen as a public subsidy (in the form
of low rates, the extension of quality services, massive transfers of
water, etc.) to private welfare. In a word, the planning, funding and
management of water and electricity networks in L.A., as soon as
they were identiﬁed as efﬁcient tools for deconcentration, supported urban sprawl, seen as a socio-political project. As private
entities, water and power companies did not play such a role, given
that private companies made proﬁt-maximising decisions rather
than attempting to support suburbanisation and sprawl as such.
4.2. The role of water and power networks in socio-spatial segregation
In the case of L.A., the integrated organisation of water and
power networks seems to have played against solidarity and favoured segregation because municipalisation was meant to reinforce individual proﬁt-making interests more than the public
good. Moreover, while the DWP serves all sectors of the City of
L.A. at the same rate (despite differences in costs), inequalities persist in terms of the quality of water offered, of the location of facilities and the potential nuisances they create (tanks, water ﬁltering
plants, and so on), and of political access to decision-making. We
did not gather sufﬁcient empirical material on socio-spatial segregation to make solid conclusions here. However, a brief look at differentiated consumption practices and environmental justice
claims raises some doubts over the ability of the DWP to provide
safeguards against fragmentation, despite the fact that it remains
a public, integrated, agency. Controversies surrounding tap water
quality (Natural Resources Defense Council, 2002) have encouraged differentiated consumption practices. While the richest turn
more and more to bottled water, the poorest develop their own
strategies as well, such as buying water within ethnically-based
social networks based on trust, the waterias. Some activists are also
pushing for a subsidised distribution of bottled water in order to
equalise water quality across the city (personal conversation with
an activist, June 8, 2003). We are thus facing a paradox: the DWP’s
decision not to deregulate has not prevented the individualisation
of consumption practices.
Another indicator of differentiated practices is the level of consumption. In the San Fernando Valley, as mentioned above, low
density, larger lots, and higher temperatures tend to translate into
higher consumption (particularly during the summer). In order to
prevent other areas from having to subsidise this heavy use, the
city council attempted in 1992 to impose a surcharge based on
the level of consumption in order to encourage conservation efforts. San Fernando Valley residents pressured the council not to
pursue that avenue, and ﬁnally won. The threat of secession has
also given these residents means to inﬂuence the council more
than marginalised populations.23
4.3. The role of water and power networks in political and
The creation, at the turn of the 20th century, of an integrated
and municipalised water and power system reinforced the power
of a downtown-centred elite. The City of L.A. has relied on its three
proprietary departments (DWP, LAX, Harbor) in order to foster economic development. As Erie writes:
Until the multiple crises of the early 1990s (recession, riots,
and earthquake) shook civic conﬁdence, the City of the
Angels never behaved as a city with limits. Instead, Los
Angeles acted as a sovereign city-state, using the extensive
powers of local government (particularly development
In Ecology of Fear (1998), Mike Davis provides many other examples of
inequalities in political access.
F. MacKillop, J.-A. Boudreau / Geoforum 39 (2008) 1833–1842
bureaucracies and massive infrastructure investments) to
create, in an unlikely setting, one of the world’s great cities,
regions, and hubs of global commerce (Erie, 2004, p. 20).
But this downtown-centred power based on close ties between
bureaucrats, experts, and business, continues to anger secessionists.
Municipalisation was decided on technical and proﬁt-making considerations, just as the decision not to deregulate or dismantle the
DWP was based on efﬁciency and proﬁt-making. This is not surprising in the United States, where fear of ‘big government’ and ‘big
business’ has long been part of the political culture, from the beginning of the anti-trust and Progressive movements at the turn of the
20th century, to the fall of Enron and the dismantling of the Welfare
state at the turn of the 21st century. Belief in competition, expertise,
and efﬁciency as a means to ﬁght corruption is widespread. Water
and power are not considered a citizen right (as in Europe), but vectors of economic development. In brief, ideals of proﬁt-making and
efﬁciency (where the public sector helps private accumulation), of
local control, and the American Dream were central in creating
what might be seen as the L.A. paradox: the creation of a public
and integrated water and power network which has fostered and
exacerbated fragmenting processes.
In brief, Graham and Marvin’s (2001) suggestion that network
de-integration and deregulation exacerbate urban fragmentation
does not hold in the case of Los Angeles. However, the ‘splintering
urbanism’ thesis has stimulated more empirical research that has
yielded reﬂections on the importance of local contexts, political
cultures, and conﬁgurations of actors in the analysis of urban and
infrastructural governance. While indeed, neoliberal inﬂuences
have been extremely important in L.A., the long-standing culture
of using public institutions to serve business interests in the United
States has meant that neoliberal policies of deregulation and deintegration have been avoided in some local contexts, not because
they encountered resistance from forces that wished to maintain
the welfare state intact (as it was often the case in Europe), but because they did not serve the business interests well.
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