Padilla Tries to Shift Focus Onto ‘Valimony’ Payment Politics by Jacqueline Fox If all Mayor James Hahn’s anti-secession campaign strategists have to offer over the next few weeks hinges on the rhetoric and often confusing misinformation offered up by City Council President Alex Padilla during a recent debate on Valley cityhood, I think the city would be wise to prepare for a breakup. During the debate, sponsored by the Southland Regional Association of Realtors Inc. July 25, Padilla attempted to square off against Richard Katz, chairman of the Valley Independence Committee, on the pros and cons of a Valley split. From this reporter’s view, Katz blew Padilla out of the water on issues ranging from the $128 million budget item I’ll call “Valimony,” to the transparent attempt by City Hall over the last few months to implement so-called city services with everything from white-gloved traffic cops on Ventura Boulevard to filling a few potholes in the Northeast Valley. Let’s focus, for now, on the $128 million the new Valley city would have to pay Los Angeles for its independence, because it clearly represents a key talking point for anti-secessionists. They fought like hell and won that same week to have the wording about the payments put on the ballot initiative for secession. In theory, the ballot language was aimed at convincing voters that, before they tick “yes” for secession Nov. 5, they ought to know their new government’s first action would be to write a check for that amount to L.A. Translation: your city will start out $128 million poorer than it is now. “Voters have the right to full disclosure,” said Padilla during the debate, adding that the payments would leave the new city weakened from the start and forced to call for tax increases or service cuts to make up the difference. But Katz not only came up with graphics and charts to present an accurate view of what the payments actually mean, he called the plan for an addition to the initiative exactly what it was: “A political attempt to control the campaign,” said Katz. He then explained that the so-called “alimony” figure represents what the Valley is already paying Los Angeles not only paying, but paying and not getting anything back for. That figure, for anyone who has yet to read the fine print, is not a new tax ,as Padilla and others would have us believe , and even Padilla admitted that during the debate. Instead, it is the difference between what the Valley now pays for services and what it actually gets. To the credit of secessionists, they fought for and won approval to also have that explanation included in the initiative wording. Katz also reminded the audience that the alimony payment would decrease by 5 percent each year until the 20-year period ends, representing a $1.3 billion windfall for the new Valley city over time. Paraphrasing Katz: That’s money that would otherwise go straight to the city’s coffers and, not only that, would depreciate over time. So far, with the exception of a few token gestures, there’s been little evidence offered up by the city that, without a breakup, the Valley would continue to get a higher degree of services over the next 20 years sufficient to keep pace with or even lower the fiscal disparity. Padilla also attempted to make a case for sticking together by pointing out that the new city would be forced to contract with Los Angeles for certain services, namely police, fire and emergency operations. “It’s the difference between renting and owning,” Padilla said, hoping to strike a chord with the roughly 300 realtors in the room. While on its face, the “I hate you, don’t leave me” analogy may seem to undermine the motivation for a breakup, it’s a fundamentally flawed argument. But here’s the real point, and I’ll paraphrase Katz again: How stupid does L.A. think the Valley voters are to imply that the new government, whether or not it is elected by a 15-percent or a 40-percent mandate, couldn’t negotiate new contracts with nearby municipalities for those services once the three-year transition period is up? Padilla attempted to bolster his case by pointing out that the smaller-is-better theme is weakened by the fact that people pay more for trash pickup in Burbank and Glendale than they do in Los Angeles. But consider what is at the very heart of the secession movement and you’ll get the clearest reason why Padilla’s argument can’t hold up: You don’t always get what you pay for. Services may be cheaper in Los Angeles, but the quality and consistency are lacking to the degree that the latest polls show a majority of Valley residents prefer to be on their own, and a narrow majority of voters citywide feel the same way. It may be true that, with the exception of a few debates, the campaign for a breakup has yet to really kick into high gear, but at least secessionists have done some homework. They know the importance of providing hard data to back up their case, especially when it comes to money. So far, the opposing camp has yet to offer up a single platform plank worth attempting to verify. Instead, the framework for the drive to hold L.A. together appears to hinge upon two things: invoking fear and twisting facts. Here’s a suggestion for Mayor James Hahn’s anti-secession team, One Los Angeles and the unions who’ve vowed to fight the initiative. Instead of trying to scare voters into thinking that once a new city is formed everything north of Mullholland Drive is going to fall into a black hole, how about coming up with the raw data that shows just how much worse things will get for those left behind? What will happen to federally funded programs if L.A.’s population slips? How much political clout would Los Angeles still carry in both Washington D.C. and Sacramento if it becomes the third largest city in the nation instead of the second? Is the city’s bond rating really in that much jeopardy? Do Los Angeles voters realize that roughly half of all manufacturing firms in Los Angeles are based in the Valley, and roughly 15 percent of the county’s average income earners live in the Valley? In other words, the anti-secession battle cry needs to take into account the folks who will likely make or break the vote Nov. 5: Valley voters. Speaking of Size The “smaller is better” slogan put forth by Valley secessionists has served as the dominant call to arms for months, with little response from the other side as far as a counter-catchphrase is concerned. So, recently the anti-secession group One Los Angeles came out with its own battle cry: “The more you know, the less you like it.” Soon one of the leading city unions campaigning against a breakup may have its own rallying cry too. Julie Butcher, manager of the Service Employees International Union Local 347, recently and jokingly tossed out, “How about, ‘Bigger is safer?,'” adding she didn’t get much of a laugh out of City Hall when she ran it up the flag pole. Jacqueline Fox is politics reporter for the Business Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.