Profile/woodard/dt1st/mark2nd Snapshot: Name: Larry J. Calemine Position: Executive director, Los Angeles County Agency Formation Commission. Born: New York, 1935 Education: Studied business and engineering, University of Southern California. Personal: Married, four children, six grandchildren. Most Admired Persons: Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter Larry Calemine works for an obscure government agency called the Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in a no-frills, backwater of an office at the County Hall of Administration. Since becoming executive director of the agency three years ago, Calemine’s most exciting job had been to oversee the odd annexation of property by water or sewer districts here and there. But if a signature count proves that Valley VOTE has enough names to force a study of secession, Calemine will be thrust into the national spotlight as his agency takes on the role of referee over an unprecedented breakup of a major U.S. city. The irony of that role isn’t lost on Calemine, who, as a prominent developer and business leader in 1975 joined Galpin Ford owner Bert Boeckmann, City Councilman Hal Bernson and others in founding the Committee Investigating Valley Independent City/County (CIVICC). While the secession effort failed, many credit the group with forcing the city to take more notice of the Valley. Still, Calemine says that anyone who might think his background could influence his handling of the secession process, “doesn’t know me very well.” Question: When Valley VOTE’s petitions came up short in a 3 percent sampling, the group argued that the sampling was wrong and asked you to approve the petitions anyway. Why didn’t you give them the benefit of the doubt? Answer: That would be very beneficial to the petitioners and the Valley, but it would be a big disservice to all the citizens of Los Angeles. When there’s a question like this, we have to err in favor of the precise and accurate process of counting each and every signature. If you didn’t, LAFCO’s credibility would be in jeopardy, and we’d be opening the issue up to lawsuits. Q: Let’s say Valley VOTE gets the required signatures to launch an economic analysis of secession. How tough will it be to decide how the assets and liabilities will be divvied up? A: Nothing of this size has ever been attempted anywhere in the country. There’s nothing in the way of legal precedence, legislative precedence or practical precedence that you can look to in guiding us how to do this. We have to look at these baskets full of assets, of liabilities, of revenue and expenditures and figure out how much should come out of this basket, and how much from that basket, so on and so forth. If it can be done without hurting either side, then that’s when the decision making comes in. Ultimately it is the (LAFCO) commission, as the decision-making body, that will digest all the studies, all the staff reports, my recommendations, and hold public hearings and listen to the public. Then the commission will render its decision, “No, we don’t agree to break up the city,” or “Yes, we should break up.” Q: How do you view your role in all this, something like the keeper of the rules? A: I’m remembering that song in “Les Miserables,” “Keeper of the Zoo.” My role is simply to make sure there’s an even playing field, for all the stakeholders. And the stakeholders are not just the petitioners, not city officials, but all the citizens of the city of Los Angeles. It’s my job to facilitate the process as much as we can. And finally, and hopefully, try to be a consensus maker for all the parties. It’s going to be contentious, there’s no question of that. Q: Do you still support secession? A: My personal feelings regarding the issue have no place in the process. I’m a paid professional staff member, and I’m going to follow the rules. Q: How have your attitudes changed, if any, since 1975 and your days with CIVICC? A: Those were the days when I was a young Turk. Now I’m an (old timer). Somewhere in between I hit the transition, I don’t know where the heck it was. So of course my attitude has changed. Nobody can grow for so many years and not see some changes. Q: What led to the creation of CIVICC? A: It’s the usual. We didn’t feel we were getting our fair share of capital improvements, and all those various things. So we put together this group for the purpose of studying whether it was feasible for the Valley to become an independent city and county like San Francisco. We didn’t circulate petitions or anything. But we felt if we went forward with this theme, and we got enough press coverage, we might accomplish that. But at the very least it would be a win-win situation. We hoped we would get a little more attention from the city, and we have. Q: What happened to that movement? A: A couple of things. Those were the days when property taxes were spiraling, people were concerned. Then Prop. 13 was passed, and that froze property taxes and people were no longer concerned. But I guess we made enough noise, and people took us seriously enough that for the first time in its history, the state Legislature, under pressure from Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose, adopted a law that gave every city in California the right to veto any detachments. That was in 1977, and that essentially killed it. Q: How would you say things have changed in the Valley between then and now? A: You mean beyond the population increase? Well, let me answer it this way. I don’t feel citizens of any government feel they’re really getting 100 percent value for their tax dollars. And they don’t. Because all governments have to provide services on a regional basis, like welfare, like child services, like medical, that take X dollars off the top of any revenue stream. If I pay a dollar in taxes, how can I expect to get a dollar in services? I think that feeling is just prevalent wherever you go. Q: What is it about the Valley that turned that feeling of resentment into political action? A: The Valley is a huge territory, not only in square miles but population. When you have (1.6) million people and you have a community leadership that gets involved, and you get the media that we have in Los Angeles, there’s always a channel in which to espouse dissatisfaction.