John Harlow dies

Harlow served on the City Council for six years. He was also active in the city’s fight against county sewer proposals, and a challenger of Waterworks District 29.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

Former Mayor John Harlow died Friday from a heart attack at 73. He and his wife, Emily, were longtime political activists in Malibu. John Harlow was recognized for his contribution to the city with a 1998 Dolphin Award from The Malibu Times.

Harlow became involved in Malibu politics in 1966, opposing a county bond measure for the building of a sewer. His side won, despite being greatly outspent in the campaign. Harlow also fought another sewer proposal in the 1980s.

In the 1970s, Harlow challenged growth plans by Waterworks District 29, the county agency that oversees Malibu’s water supply. For the rest of his life, he was constantly challenging the district’s financial practices.

“He kept them (District 29) straight,” Mayor Ken Kearsley said. “He was an accountant. He could look at their books and point out the truth. He was good at it. And I think he drove them nuts.”

During the 1970s, Harlow also got the California Coastal Commission to adopt the string line rule, which prevents the building-out of beachfront structures seaward past the line of adjacent homes. The rule was recently altered by the City Council. In addition, Harlow was chair of the committee that campaigned for Malibu city hood in 1976. The campaign lost by just 104 votes.

Harlow was born in Venice in 1930. He attended Venice High School, where he was a player on the school’s 1948 city championship basketball team. In high school, he met Malibu resident Doug O’Brien. The two would become lifetime friends.

“We had good conversations,” O’Brien said. “We could yell at each other, but we never got mad.”

Harlow attended UCLA, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration. He then became a teacher at a high school in Los Angeles. Although Harlow would move on to other jobs, he would continue with his teaching, including several years at Venice Adult School.

Harlow got a job at General Telephone in Santa Monica, where he met Emily Harlow. The two were married in 1957.

“He was very intelligent,” she said. He liked the same things I did. He liked the classics.”

Emily Harlow went to work with Hughes Aircraft while she and John were still dating, and he soon followed. John Harlow remained there for 32 years, retiring as a division manager of administration.

In 1959, the Harlows bought a property in Malibu Cove Colony. They built a home there, and moved into it in 1965. The Harlows formed the area’s homeowner’s association. Kearsley said it was in John Harlow’s nature to care about neighborhoods.

“He always gave people a head’s up when something was coming up in their neighborhood,” Kearsley said. “He looked out for our neighborhoods. And he fought for us and stood up for what other people thought.”

In 1965, the Harlows with Rob LeMond, formed a swimming-lesson camp for young children at their home along the ocean. It continues to this day. The Harlows were also active with the Boy Scouts.

In May 1992, John Harlow was appointed to fill a City Council seat vacated by former Mayor Larry Wan. Emily Harlow, who unsuccessfully ran for a council seat that year, said with her political activity the council got two members for the price of one. Malibu voters elected John Harlow to a second term in 1994. He received the most votes in that election. Kearsley said Harlow always acted on council issues with his conscience.

“I never saw him make a vote that would compromise his ideals,” Kearsley said. “He wouldn’t make a vote because somebody wanted him to make it. He made some people on the council mad, but he stood up for himself.”

Former Mayor Walt Keller, who often disagreed with Harlow when they were on the council said he still considered Harlow a friend despite their differences. Keller called him “one heck of a bulldog” when it came to fighting Waterworks District 29.

Harlow did not run for re-election in 1998, but he remained involved in Malibu politics. Emily Harlow said people would still contact the couple about issues, and she and her husband would do what they could to help.

Harlow was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the late 1990s, and his condition had gotten worse during the past several months. But O’Brien said his friend’s mind was still sharp. He said he spoke with Harlow just days before his death, and the two talked about politics as they always had. O’Brien said he hopes Harlow is remembered as a giving man who cared about others and the community, but was never one to ask for recognition.

Harlow is survived by his wife, Emily, and his two sons, Brian and Richard. A memorial service will take place on Feb. 28 at Beau Rivage, located at 26025 Pacific Coast Highway. A scholarship fund is being formed in Harlow’s memory at the Venice Adult School. Those interested in making a contribution should send money to Venice Adult School, 13000 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90066. Checks should be made out to “John Harlow Scholarship Fund.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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