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Holding One L.A. Together

Holding One L.A. Together Larry Levine says One Los Angeles will concentrate anti-secession campaign on the San Fernando Valley BY JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter Until last fall, pro-secessionists pretty much had the floor to themselves when it came to campaigning for a San Fernando Valley breakup. The anti-secession movement had yet to take shape, a development even opponents today say probably gave advocates of a breakup a sizable advantage. Then came the attacks of Sept. 11 and, along with them, calls for unity and patriotism began to dominate the collective thinking of many Americans. Perhaps it was this very phenomenon that led a group of 14 Valley residents and business leaders to gather in the back yard of one of their homes in late September and brainstorm a plan they believe will stop secessionists cold. That meeting gave birth to One Los Angeles. About the same time, Mayor James Hahn formed his own political action committee to raise funds for a “No” campaign. Larry Levine, a long-time political consultant and Valley resident, says he can’t remember who exactly made the first phone call to get the meeting organized. “Maybe it was me, I don’t know,” he said. Nonetheless, he has clearly emerged as the group’s leader and has essentially put all of his other work aside to devote his time to the cause to keep L.A. whole. He spoke to reporter Jacqueline Fox recently about the focus of One Los Angeles’ campaign and why he’s convinced it will persuade Valley voters to vote against the secession initiative on Nov. 5. Question: How did One Los Angeles come about? Answer: About 14 of us met in the back yard of a friend’s house in Tarzana to discuss the momentum of the secession campaign. We had two items on the agenda: First, we had to ask ourselves, was it time to begin an anti-secession campaign? And within a minute we all agreed the answer was yes. Secondly, we had to decide what form the organization would take and we established our first public meeting for October, sending out invitations asking people to join us. Q: How many people belong to the group? A: We have about 500 people now who have filled out forms and are ready to work on the effort. Frankly, it’s about three months since we’ve done anything really aggressive to recruit more people. Q: Polls show strong support in the Valley for secession. Don’t those numbers concern you? A: No, not at all. We figure that the numbers we are seeing now are the product of six years of a one-sided argument and we expect them to wilt over the next couple of months. What we are finding is that the people who are still in the middle of the road on the issue are the same people that think secession is going to break up the school district. The more they learn that it isn’t, the more interested they are in working on not supporting it. That’s just one example of why getting the facts out there is so important. Q: Your group and the mayor’s seem to have one consistent message, that a breakup will result in higher taxes. Secessionists call that a scare tactic. What proof do you have that taxes will go up? A: Even the Local Agency Formation Commission report put out by their executive director (Larry Calemine) says that the Valley would need to borrow $30 million, raise taxes and fees, or diminish services if it wanted to be on its own. And, in the State Controller’s report that came out earlier this year, she too said that, while they did a good job preparing their findings, the new city would be starting out dangerously low in terms of a surplus. So, we have absolutely no faith in the credibility of the LAFCO report. Q: What about city services? Do you agree the Valley hasn’t been getting its fair share and, if so, why isn’t secession the remedy for that? A: I’ve lived in the same house for 22 years and every time I put out my trash cans, someone comes along and empties them. Every time I turn my tap on, there’s water. All those people who are moaning about services, I don’t know who they are. This is what you would call a “pothole campaign.” Q: What about public safety? A: Policing in Los Angeles is loaded with problems, there’s no doubt about that. But others cities our size have similar problems, and secession isn’t going to solve them. Q: There could be as many as 200 candidates vying for mayoral and council seats for a new city who will also be campaigning for a breakup simultaneously. What’s the strategy for combating that kind of built-in support? A: What’s interesting is the pro-secession folks, the LAFCO board members and Valley VOTE needed to use consecutive elections as a crutch for their cause. What you do is you confront it head on with the facts. We know that water and electricity rates are going to go up, even though they say they won’t. They say they can contract with Los Angeles for police services, but what’s the point of breaking up if they do that? They say they can start their own police force, but I say I can show them that there’s no way they will be able to afford that with the numbers for an annual budget we are now talking about. Q: Should secession fail, what would you suggest the city do to appease those who believe they are being shortchanged? A: I would like to see secession defeated and something done to create a formal and broad-based debate on the future of our government. I don’t think we should walk away from a defeated secession initiative and say, “OK, we’ve done our job.” Q: Your group has raised roughly $34,000 so far. What is the money being spent on? A: Printing and staff. We have two consultants, one of whom is primarily working on fundraising. Q: Is there any co-mingling of funds between your PAC and the mayor’s? A: No, none whatsoever. We might share information and bodies at fundraisers and events, but not money. Q: What will be the focus of the One Los Angeles campaign from here on? A: Our focus is the Valley, not all of Los Angeles. We will leave that to the mayor’s campaign. We will remain a grassroots operation. We don’t have the budget for nor will we try to get the budget for a major TV, print or radio advertising campaign. The mayor will be doing that. But what we want to do is simply get more “no” votes than “yes” votes. Q: What do you think will be the key to convincing voters to reject secession? A: Two things. First, we need to get them to confront the fact that this “Nirvana” secessionists are advocating is not real, that the allure of small, local government isn’t real. The idea that you are going to run into your city council representative down at the corner soda fountain is false. There is no corner soda fountain. Second, we will need to get voters to confront the fact that there are risks involved, that there are still no answers for how the new city will function financially without either cutting services or raising taxes. We have to promote the downside. Q: Your group has asked Valley VOTE to reveal its revenue sources. Should they do so, what impact do you believe it would have on voters? A: Until they release their figures and where they come from, I’m going to assume that the single, biggest beneficiaries of those funds are commercial developers and their lawyers. Take a look at the board of Valley VOTE and you’ll see they are all involved in commercial land development or real estate in some way. They are going to rake in millions if this passes and we are going to pay for it. Believe me, if the voters really knew where the money winds up and I don’t want to seem hysterical here but if the voters knew how it all worked, well, I’m thinking of something equivalent to public hangings. Snapshot: Larry Levine Age: 65 Title: Political consultant and co-founder of One Los Angeles Education: Some college Personal: Married, two grown children Most admired person: Wife Jennifer

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