Up Close with Ruth Williams

Hi Ruth. I don’t know where to begin. You have done so much for the city of West Hollywood. We might need to do a series of Ruth stories. Let’s start from the beginning for all the new residents and readers. When did you move to West Hollywood?

I have an anniversary coming up – my mom and I arrived in WeHo on August 18, 1950. We stayed with my cousin on orange grove until we found an apt on Spaulding, then moving to fuller where i lived when graduating from Fairfax High. I practically grew up in Plummer Park as did my kids.

Do you recall the days before cityhood? And tell us all a bit of how that energy started to percolate?

Oh geez there isn’t enough room for that – eons ago pre cityhood a resident named Frank Wittenberg tried to make us a city but failed.

But then rents began to triple forcing many residents to leave and as a single mom with 3 kids I was faced with that as well & wanted to see how I could help – I heard about an organization called CES from a friend of mine, Norman Chramoff who took me to their office where I met Larry Gross and that’s how rent control began in Los Angeles county, we hired a bus to bring people to the board of supervisors and that’s how county rent control began. It was due to phase out in the late 80’s and again we got together to see what our options were, I believe there were 3 but we decided to go for cityhood.

By the way, my building was one of the very first that was tested under the county rent control ordinance, our owner came to the tenants telling us he was raising our rents to an illegal high and demanded we all pay in cash. And said if we didn’t he was going to take away the pool so I organized our building, called Larry and got the name of a good attorney, the residents all put in money to hire him, went to court and won a judgment that the pool could not be taken and he had to pay our court costs. The owner was so angry he showed up one day with a dump truck full of dirt to fill in the pool, it was winter but i had my youngest son put on his suit and jump in the pool. So he had them dump the dirt on the sidewalk, I called the sheriff who cited him for illegal dumping and I had also called the media and if I recall we were on channel 7 . So the owner wound up selling the building.

We actually held one of the very first meetings in my living room when I was friends with a known reporter, Bill Press to get his advice, Larry Gross, Norman Chramoff and a few others were there and we all decided our only alternative was to go for cityhood – we then held a huge rally in Plummer Park to get support from residents. I recall we were waiting for results on the election at the then Bel Age Hotel, and when we won we had a victory party in PlummerPark. That’s when I first met Abbe Land we were blowing up balloons in Fiesta Hall to celebrate. I recall when we were going to hold the election for our first city council – I ran with Norman and on 500.00, we didn’t even know most of the others – I came in 10th out of i believe 41 others – and I was so thrilled to have received the endorsement of Frontiers Magazine. A few residents supported by Francis Montgomery were completely against cityhood, believe it or not along with Jean Dobrin and Joyce Hundal fought to defeat us. After winning we all became friends and as you know Jeanne stayed very involved in the city.

After cityhood, I served on the board of MECLA along with Bob Burke, Bob Craig, David Mixner, Diane Abbit, Roberta Bennet (sic), Zeke Zeidler to name a few. I served on the board of Stonewall for many years, president of the West Hollywood Democratic Club and still serve on the board of what is now the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic Club. I served for many years as an alternate for the los angeles county democratic party. I can’t recall how many other organizations I’ve been involved with.

As the founding city mom, what was your relationship with the founding father?

Actually John disliked Valerie Terrigno & even though she and I were not friends, as I did not know her very well but since I was so involved in renters rights she appointed me to the first rent stabilization commission, so for a few years there was a bit of friction – however, over the years John and I became friends and I respected him for his honesty, and commitment to the city. You may not always like what he had to say but he spoke his mind and cared deeply for the city and could always be trusted on rent control and developing many programs for seniors and disabled. John is a brilliant man and i will always admire him.

In the next article we can talk more city stuff, but who is Ruth? Single woman, living alone, senior. I know you have two kids so tell us about your family.

I’m a divorced single mom with 3 sons and 3 fantastic grandchildren. My sons were born and raised in west hollywood and 2 of my grandchildren were born in west hollywood as well since their parents lived in an apartment in the same building as me. I remember when my kids used to play on our street and in Plummer Park. I even used to play tennis on the court there.

There’s a whole other story about the Russians taken over Plummer Park with gambling and what I did to stop it!!

As a senior citizen we all face many challenges. I’m guessing you know everything about what West Hollywood has to offer its seniors, and our aging in place initiatives. How can we do better?

First of all they can get rid of these dangerous scooters, robots delivering food, most seniors live in apt buildings with codes to enter – how are robots going to access these buildings? How can they expect seniors or disabled to come down to pick up their food? When i was on public safety we opposed scooters & robots. If this was a city full of single homes robots might make sense – albeit they are still dangerous on sidewalks to pedestrians.

Start fixing the sidewalks, increase street lighting on residential streets and on santa monica blvd. For years I keep bringing up if you drive east on S/M from La Cienega and the minute you cross Fairfax the lighting diminishes.

Do you feel seniors are overlooked?

I’m beginning to feel that seniors don’t count anymore and this is reflecting in city appointments. We may be old but we’re knowledgable, full of history and have some damn good ideas and input.

I think you are the building manager in a rent-controlled apartment complex. How has covid affected you and your neighbors.

Actually it has brought people closer together they watch out for each other and when going to the store reach out to each other to see if anything is needed when they go to the store.

Have rents decreased?

In our building the owner did decrease rents on vacant units since we had 7, however, we still have 2 vacant units but i think he may try to increase since legally he can on vacancies and people are starting to move.

If we can sum up with one public safety question, as you have served on the public safety commission for many years but was not re-appointed after this past election cycle. What is your advice to those new commissioners?

First of all, I submitted a letter stating I was not applying for reappointment. When serving I always invited the new member to breakfast to try and answer any questions they may have to help them get to know the history of the commission. When a councilmember suggested getting rid of the sheriff I organized a group called s.O.S (support our sheriff) and we won by a small margin since I helped establish the commission after the movement to have our own police dept and give my perspective on the pros and cons of it

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Jimmy Palmieri
2 months ago

My beautiful friend Ruth, told me 20 years ago to stick around. I did. There are few people i absolutely adore, and Ruth is one of them. Dedication, intelligence, kindness and humor. Her selflessness is boundless I adore her.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
2 months ago

Ruth this was really a great tribute and it only scratches the surface of your career of service in West Hollywood. I remember Frank Wittenberg was a homeowner on Greenacre and was with you in fighting to clean up the eastside of Santa Monica and Plummer Park. I am a bit surprised that Larry Block didn’t know that the “Father” of the Citihood movement was Ron Stone, but then given the fact that Ron, like many others, were quickly written out of the City’s history that is no surprise. Ruth on the other hand, was never shy about taking on… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
2 months ago

Ruth, I a salute your selfless commitment and contributions to West Hollywood. I wish you would run for council again, as I would be a tireless foot soldier on your behalf. Thank you for your service!

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
2 months ago

John Heilman is not the city “founding father” That distinction belongs to the late Ron Stone, who planted the seed. In Ron’s August 20, 1988 obituary, the the L.A. Times said , “Ronald L. Stone was the major architect of the incorporation drive that made a city out of the community of West Hollywood “Known as the father of West Hollywood citihood, Stone was instrumental in turning the 1.9 square mile wedge of unincorporated Los Angeles County, into the first American city to be governed by a gay majority.” “Without him, it wouldn’t have happened”, said John Heilman, a West… Read more »

A. Lee WALKUP
A. Lee WALKUP
2 months ago

Ruth is a leader, a participant, and a mover-shaker! When boards, commissions, and Council need to be motivated to excel, Ruth WILLIAMS is the person that we know will move us to do better – perhaps our best. Thank you Ruth for all that you do!

carleton cronin
2 months ago

Three cheers for Ruth! Through thick and thin, someone who was always there.

Joan Henehan
Joan Henehan
2 months ago

Ruth Williams is tireless, especially when it comes to quality of life issues within her beloved West Hollywood. She’s thoughtful, knowledgeable and driven by innate kindness in all of her civic activity. Ruth’s spirit of giving extends beyond the City’s borders to Board Membership on various civic-minded organizations, for she puts the very best of democratic ideals into meaningful action. Ruth, I join all who know you in saluting your selfless contributions to making West Hollywood a City of Kindness and Cooperation!

pat dixon
pat dixon
2 months ago

i love ruth williams. she is honest, trustworthy and a source of great wisdom and kindness. we should have more people like Ruth on our boards and commissions. thank you for the article. i was able to get further insight to a woman i have long admired.

Weho Fan
Weho Fan
2 months ago

Ruth your the best!

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