First it was the San Fernando Valley, then the San Pedro and Wilmington areas. Now business and community leaders in Hollywood are preparing to mount a petition drive to split from the city of Los Angeles. Supporters of secession say the more the merrier. They believe that if the issue eventually goes to voters, possibly in 2002, and more communities climb on the breakaway bandwagon, it will be easier to win a majority vote in a citywide election. “The Valley already represents 50 percent of the city’s votes. The Harbor and Hollywood areas would put us at about 60 percent of the vote,” said Jeff Brain, president of Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment, or VOTE. He believes the movement in Hollywood shows that even with charter reform there is strong dissatisfaction with the quality of city government. Opponents, however, say secession could be in big trouble if too many communities try to jump ship at once. They contend that any mass exodus would make it easier for the city of Los Angeles to prove to the Local Agency Formation Commission that a breakup would result in grave financial consequences. To put secession on the ballot, LAFCO must agree that a split is “revenue neutral,” meaning it wouldn’t cause financial harm to Los Angeles or the communities breaking away. “As more (communities) attempt to break away, it’s going to make it more difficult to show that it won’t hurt Los Angeles or the other parts of the city,” said Bill Violante, a deputy mayor who serves as Mayor Richard Riordan’s point man on secession. Not true, says Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE: “That’s a typical reaction from people interested in maintaining the status quo,” he said. Late last month, a group calling itself Hollywood VOTE a name chosen because of its similarity to the Valley movement announced its push to make Hollywood an independent city. Leaders of the group plan to piggyback on the existing breakup movement as LAFCO prepares to hire a consultant to study the financial consequences of a split. The Hollywood group plans to begin a petition drive on Jan. 15 aimed at collecting signatures from 25 percent of the registered voters in the community the minimum amount needed to force a study of secession. Groups in the Valley and San Pedro have already completed similar petition drives. “At this point in the process, they’re even more organized than the Valley was,” Brain said of the Hollywood group. “They have a lot of business and community leaders working closely together.” Larry Calemine, executive director of LAFCO, said no one can predict the economic consequences of secession until his agency has a chance to study the matter. The nine-member LAFCO board, which is mostly made up of elected officials from L.A. County and its cities, is expected to open bids from prospective consultants on Dec. 20. The regional body will then hold a series of interviews before selecting the winning applicant in February or March. The study is likely to take two years to complete, with secessionists hoping their measure will make the ballot in 2002. “I don’t see any massive demonstrations (of support) in some of these communities,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst with Claremont Graduate University, who believes that having communities like Hollywood join the fray might only serve to confuse the voters at election time. And that doesn’t bode well. “When voters are confused they tend to vote no,” she said. Voters also tend to be risk averse. As a result, if too many communities join the secession movement, voters may shoot it down out of concern about the consequences to L.A. Still, Brain believes secession-minded residents in Hollywood, San Pedro and the San Fernando Valley will prevail. “This could turn out to be very positive for Los Angeles,” he said. “Look at all the communities around L.A. that are vibrant and doing well, like Burbank, Glendale, West Hollywood, Santa Monica. I’ve found that a lot of people recognize that L.A. is too large and dysfunctional.” Violante said the Valley would still be a major metropolitan area with 1.3 million residents and all the urban problems that come with so many people if it splits from L.A. “The Valley is increasingly an urban community. It’s built on aging infrastructure, it has gangs and all the other big-city problems,” he said. “The problems are not going to go away by becoming a separate city.” Further, Violante noted that the city has often pulled together in times of adversity. As an example, he cited the days after the Northridge earthquake, when a massive effort was needed to get the freeways back up and running and rehabilitate damaged apartment buildings. “We couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without working together,” Violante said. Close said he doesn’t buy the domino theory that secession will be swamped by a flood of communities trying to join the movement. “We’re going to have some economically strong areas remaining, especially downtown and the Westside,” he said. “There will still be a city of 2.3 million people.” What’s Next? Business and community members in Hollywood are preparing to mount a petition drive to secede from Los Angeles. The group must gather signatures from 25 percent of the registered voters in Hollywood to join the San Fernando Valley and Harbor area in a study looking at the breakup. Study: The Local Agency Formation Commission is expected to hire a consultant in February or March to examine the economic ramifications of secession. (Bids from consultants are expected to be opened Dec. 20.) Review: The nine-member LAFCO board is expected to hold a series of public meetings to consider the study’s findings. Outcome: LAFCO must find that secession does not cause economic damage to L.A. or the areas breaking away before it can agree to place the issue on the ballot. Vote: To pass, the measure which is not expected to make the citywide ballot any time before 2002 would have to be approved by a majority of voters in the areas attempting to break away along with a majority in L.A. as a whole.