Todd, a native of North Dakota, moved to Los Angeles in 1920 with his parents and two sisters when he was six months old.
Following his father’s path to higher education, Todd earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at USC, and then served his country in World War II as an Air Force munitions specialist in Alaska and Guam.
Todd met Frances McGuire on his way through Seattle to Alaska during the war, and they married in 1943. (Frances Todd worked as Todd's stenographer in his law office until John Allan Todd was born in 1953. Michael Arthur Todd was born in 1955.)
John S. Todd and Jacqueline Rynerson in 2009 (top). Todd as the new city of Lakewood's first city attorney in 1954 (middle). The John S, Todd Community Center at Mayfair Park (below).
After the war, Todd completed law school at USC and opened a law office in 1949 in Lakewood Village, which was a cluster of houses and commercial buildings north of Long Beach. His legal work developed slowly, and Todd advertised that he had desk space in his office and a telephone to rent for $45 a month. But Todd soon found that civic involvement suited him as much as the law. He became active with the Lakewood Taxpayers Association, which lobbied the county government to fix neighborhood problems like smelly hog farms.
By 1953, Long Beach city officials began to consider how Lakewood might be annexed to the older, larger city. But many Lakewood residents did not want to be absorbed by Long Beach. To stall annexation elections, Todd and other civic activists circulated petitions calling for the election to be called off. They were successful, but their success would only be temporary.
To ensure Lakewood's future, Todd and others sought to incorporate Lakewood as a city in its own right.
It was thought that the young families of Lakewood could not afford to turn their community into an city, but Todd devised a plan that made it possible, through the use of contracting, to provide services under contract with the county, other public agencies, and businesses.
Todd reasoned that Lakewood could continue to receive public services such as law enforcement, street repair, and building inspection from the county through contracts, while entering into agreements with private companies for other services, such as trash collection and street sweeping.
Lakewood voters enthusiastically endorsed the plan in 1954, incorporated Lakewood as a new city, and elected a city council, which then retained Todd as the first city attorney.
Lakewood thrived under the Lakewood Plan. By 1960, there were 18,500 homes in Lakewood and a population well over 75,000. The city continued to grow, reaching its current size of 9.5 square miles and 27,000 single-family homes and apartments.
The mid-1970s was a time of political turmoil for Lakewood during which three council incumbents lost their bids for reelection. Todd survived several votes of confidence as the newly elected council members maneuvered to fire him. Voters had soon tired of their division and controversy. A new city council majority affirmed Todd's continuing role in shaping Lakewood.
The Lakewood Plan for contracting city services also continued to work well. Almost every new city in California in the 1960s copied it. But older cities resented the upstarts, and Todd was called on to defend the Lakewood Plan in court for more than twenty years.
As chief legal adviser to the California Contract Cities Association, Todd finally resolved the issue in 1977, when an appeals court upheld a law signed by then Governor Ronald Reagan that allocated sheriff’s costs to contract cities. Also in 1977, Todd became the legal counsel to the Southern California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, a consortium of cities, including Lakewood, which provides insurance to member cities.
In 1978, Lakewood pioneered the regulation of drug paraphernalia sales. At the urging of then Mayor Paul Zeltner, Todd wrote an ordinance prohibiting the sale or display of drug paraphernalia to anyone under age 18. Like adult entertainment business operators before them, paraphernalia dealers targeting Lakewood found that they had met their match.
With his legacy intact, and with five decades of city service behind him, Todd prepared for retirement in 2004. He planned to close his private practice by the end of 2004 after stepping down as city attorney.
His first wife, Frances, had died in 1980, and his second wife, Millie, had died in 1990. He moved to Huntington Beach, where he stayed in touch with his five grandchildren: Jason, Bill, Zach, Kerstin and Carley. Bill and Zach were the models for two characters in a children's book their grandfather wrote called The Goodfellow Boys and the Talking Dinosaurs.
Todd’s involvement in the civic life of Lakewood is a record of fifty years of remarkable achievements. He is the “father of the Lakewood Plan” of municipal contracting that empowered more than forty other communities in Los Angeles County to follow Lakewood’s model after 1954.
Throughout his career – first as city attorney of Lakewood and later also as the city attorney of Pico Rivera – Todd was the Lakewood Plan’s most effective defender. Lakewood and contracting prevailed because Todd was always there, offering advice and his enormous expertise in municipal law.
Every part of Lakewood's history has been shaped by Todd’s steady vision of a city that would provide economical local government and responsive public services through contracting. That vision was a powerful one. The innovative ideas that Todd nurtured in 1954 have given rise to hundreds of other incorporation movements around the nation. Those new incorporators can call Todd the “father” of their city too.
Todd’s achievements in municipal law have been honored by his colleagues in the legal profession. They have earned the praise of county and state leaders. They have been codified and made legal precedent. They will shape California cities for many more decades to come.
But what is the Todd legacy to us, who make Lakewood our home? His legacy is hope for the future ... solutions to the daunting problems of municipal service delivery ... an innovative expansion of the democratic process ... and the preservation of community values.
These are the legacy of John Sanford Todd, Lakewood’s City Attorney Emeritus, “father of the Lakewood Plan,” champion of local government, a towering figure in California municipal jurisprudence, and an enduring Legend of Lakewood.