People Interview: Homeward Bound As Speaker Robert Hertzberg’s work in Sacramento comes to a close, he begins to focus on issues closer to home in the San Fernando Valley By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter In December, State Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, will wrap up his sixth and final year in the California State Legislature. He began the closure process earlier this month when he stepped down as speaker, a post he was twice elected to, and is now making plans to return to the San Fernando Valley. As speaker of the assembly, Hertzberg was compelled to take a state-wide view on issues. That, however, doesn’t mean he neglected the Valley. Hertzberg almost single-handedly rewrote the original Kortese-Knox Act (now the Kortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act), the legislative roadmap used by the Local Agency Formation Commission as a blueprint for municipal reorganizations. The revisions both stripped the L.A. City Council of its veto power over a LAFCO-approved reorganization and paved the way for the study of the Valley secession proposal now on the table. Insisting he is not pro-secession, Hertzberg has rejected requests for support from both sides of the debate and vowed to remain above the fray for now. However, he says he plans to devote a lot of time over the next few months to studying alternatives to secession, pushing regionalism as an antidote to the state’s budget woes and what he calls a dysfunctional financial framework for government. Hertzberg spoke to Business Journal political reporter Jacqueline Fox recently about his strategy for tackling the secession issue and what he plans to do once he leaves office at the end of the year. Question: Although you’ve been asked to support both camps on the secession front, you’ve said you prefer to remain above the fray. Why have you chosen not to take a side? Answer: First, I never ever weigh into a situation that’s complicated unless I have some understanding of it. My time has been focused on the budget crisis, on the energy crisis and the terrorism crisis. So, to go in and jump in the fray I would not do. I am looking for a way to figure out an answer and we’ll figure that out. I wanted to do the homework. I don’t really know the answer. I know the problem. I know the situation, and I’m trying to figure out how to solve it. So now, one of the things that I’m going to do is put a lot of time and attention and energy and research into it and figure out how we can resolve this issue that’s very unique to Los Angeles. Q: Based on your knowledge of voters’ concerns, would a secession initiative be approved by the voters if it were held today? A: I don’t know. I do know that movements are based upon a vision, and a set of values. Not based upon, we don’t like this group or that group and we want a divorce. Whatever you do has to be out of a positive vision that’s good for everybody. The message has to be good for everybody. Scare tactics don’t work. It’s not about one geographic area versus another. It’s about how you create a government that works for people. Q: You’ve suggested that a study of the borough system for Los Angeles would be worthwhile? Why do you think at this point, that form of government would offer a better alternative to a new Valley city? A: I don’t know that it is for sure. It could be a possibility, and the reason, of course, is to get the benefit of a larger government with the benefit of a smaller government that gives you a sense of community. That’s where I’m coming from on that. But it’s one option. Q: Can you explain your vision for a regional approach to government and why you believe that approach is necessary? A: The state’s financial structure is a mess. It is dysfunctional. You have all major sources of money highly volatile sources of revenue and nobody in any business would ever build a business based on these tremendous, wide fluctuations. The new economy has changed how we organize. There are synergies, for example, around industries, like the entertainment industry or the garment industry. Businesses do things very differently now and, for those reasons, I think government has to also change. It occurs to me that smaller units of government that are regionally based and very localized work and are the new model for how the state should be. You’re just not going to fix it unless you have a revolution. And I think the revolution is devolution. Q: Given your audience here is the San Fernando Valley business community, what would you consider your top accomplishments while in office? A: I formed the San Fernando Valley Business Advisory Commission, where leaders from all walks of life in the business community advised me on legislation ideas. I didn’t always take (the advice), but I always understood. The business community in the Valley was disproportionally effective in terms of having impact at the statewide level, and this commission has worked to improve that. Q: What programs or measures concerning the San Fernando Valley had you hoped to see realized but were unable to push through? A: The Valley transportation system, pure and simple. I wanted that up and running. I wanted those wheels turning. Q: You crafted revisions to the Kortese-Knox Act for special reorganizations. Can you explain what revisions you authored and why they were necessary? A: When I began studying the issue about the city council’s veto powers on secession and reorganization issues, I looked at the law. It was 179 pages and it was just complete mishmash, pure and simple. I read it and re-read it and I couldn’t figure it out. I just couldn’t. So I did what I always do: I do the immediate and I do the long term. The immediate was AB62, which took away the council’s veto powers on reorganization, and the long term was a bipartisan commission under Gov. Pete Wilson, which resulted in a 180-page revision. So, it’s in English now and everyone can read it and understand it. Q: You’ve vowed to devote more time to helping reshape local government. What’s your strategy for doing so? A: Well, hard work. Study and hard work. It sounds trite, but it’s true. You read, you think, you give other people credit, you test new ideas and you begin to mold things in terms of a vision. How that will take place, I do not know. I will reengage by joining a number of boards and community activities. I’m not disengaging from the community. I had 20-something years before I got elected to government as a very active participant in civic life and in the community. Q: Do you intend to run for a seat in local government once your term ends in December? If not, what do you see yourself doing for a living? A: Well, I didn’t need to run for government before, so I don’t know. I’m interested more in statewide office, possibly, if I run again. In the meantime, I’m going to make a living. I’ve got young kids and I want to spend a lot of time with them and I want to reengage in the community. But I don’t want to run for office just to run. I don’t want to do something based on platitudes. I want to do something to make change. So, am I interested in public service? Yes. Does it have to be elective office? Possibly. But in the meantime, I’ll come back and one thing I do know is, I’ve never not been busy. It’s not the job. It’s me.