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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

SECEDE—Secessionists Next Focus Is On the Voters

According to the results of a recent study commissioned by the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, a significant percentage of Valley residents are undecided about whether they’d support the creation of a separate city or opt to remain part of Los Angeles. In addition, the number of “yes” responses for secession appears to have diminished since a previous survey by the Alliance. One political analyst says a strong campaign in favor of a breakup ought to begin soon if those numbers are going to change by November 2002. Secessionists however say they are not concerned about the increase in “don’t know” responses. Instead, they are relying on the conclusions of the feasibility study released by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in March, which show the Valley could sustain itself, to pull a majority of those undecided voters (and a good chunk of the “no’s”) over to their side. That report is expected in September. The survey, conducted for the Economic Alliance by The Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, polled 800 Valley residents last year. Results were released on May 31. It was the second annual survey done by the institute. The first one, also commissioned by the Alliance, was completed in 1999. According to the survey, only 41 percent of the respondents would vote in favor of secession, compared to 51 percent in 1999. And, while only 18 percent were opposed to secession compared to roughly 21 percent in 1999, 42 percent of the respondents said they didn’t know how they would vote nearly double the percentage of ‘undecideds’ in 1999, when 20 percent of respondents said they were unsure. Jeff Brain, president of Valley VOTE, the group spearheading the drive for secession, said he believes the high number of undecided responses means that residents are simply taking a “wait-and-see” approach. “I was a little surprised by the number of unknowns,” Brain said. “But Valley VOTE has always told people not to decide today. We have said all along to wait until the LAFCO report is out and then start thinking about their decision.” Ralph Rossum, director of the Rose Institute, said respondents in the most recent survey may have more information from the LAFCO study to go on and are weighing the issue more carefully. “I think what you are seeing here is they are opting to take their time before making up their minds,” said Rossum. Rossum also pointed out that the survey showed that of those that would vote for secession, 48 percent said they would stick to their votes even if their taxes increased by 10 percent. The figure represents an improvement over 1999 survey results, which put that same figure at 37 percent. “What it shows is a marked change in how residents perceive secession would affect their lifestyles,” said Rossum. Over the next few weeks, said Brain, Valley VOTE will begin meeting with representatives from local organizations and asking them to take a position for or against secession. Harver Englander, a political analyst with the Los Angeles-based firm MWW Group, which has run campaigns in the past for city council members including Laura Chick and Hal Bernson, said a campaign for secession is going to be costly and, if it is to be successful, must begin at the grassroots level. “Secessionsts have databases full of supporters, so I would definitely continue to develop a dialogue with them, that’s number one,” said Englander. A lot has been said about the disparity in services between Los Angeles and the Valley the impetus for a breakup in the first place. But Englander said voters will now need to hear more about the advantages of a breakup, including how businesses may benefit from tax breaks and what changes will come concerning municipal services and local representation. “Everyone knows now what the features are going to be, but what are the benefits?” asked Englander. “How will things change for residents of a new Valley city under a breakup? They need to start hearing those things.” It’s too soon to put a price tag on it, but Englander also said organizers for a “Yes on Secession” drive are going to need to raise a lot of cash if they want to win the support they need to pass a ballot measure, which is both a majority of the voters in the Valley and a majority of the voters across Los Angeles. But, said Englander, the focus shouldn’t be on big donors. “There is going to have to be a massive fundraising campaign for this,” said Englander. “But not just a campaign for money from those who can afford to give $50,000 checks. If the average homeowner or voter gives $15 to the campaign, that person is going to be more likely to put a sign on their lawn.” Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, said Englander’s suspicions that an expensive campaign is necessary are right on target. But he pointed out that, along with a secession initiative on the ballot, residents will also be voting for 14 new Valley city council seats and a new mayor in November 2002. And those races, said Close, will come with their own built-in “yes” campaigns, with as many as 10 candidates in each district knocking on doors for support. “There’s no question about the fact that the council and mayor races will also have to promote the ‘yes’ vote,” said Close. “So with about 150 campaigns going on for those seats, that’s about 150 ‘yes’ campaigns for secession. That’s the beauty of this thing.” But even the most rudimentary campaigns can’t begin until LAFCO draws up prospective council districts for the Valley, which could take place sometime this fall. “Everyone is looking for LAFCO to draw up the boundaries. We are getting calls from people who want to run but can’t do so until those are set,” said Close. So far, the most significant “no” campaign has come from outgoing Mayor Richard Riordan. Mayor-elect James Hahn, whom Close said he supported, has also publicly opposed the idea of a breakup of Los Angeles. “Why wouldn’t he? And, why would any of the Los Angeles City Council members want to vote for smaller districts for themselves?” asked Close. “But there really isn’t a “no” campaign, and our message to the new city council over the next year will only be that we want to make sure they don’t try to get in our way.” Close said council races for a new Valley city would be open to all sitting Los Angeles City Council members. And what about the rest of Los Angeles? The residents in the non-Valley portions of the city will be a tough sell, according to Englander. He suggested that a “yes” campaign be launched on two fronts: one at the grassroots level, similar to the monumental Prop. 13 campaign of the 1970s, and a second campaign targeting the residents that would live in the new city. Close agreed that two campaigns are likely. He said, however, that the number of votes needed from non-Valley residents is much lower than the number of votes it expects to get from those who are already living here. “Not only do we think we have a positive message to get out as to why the entire city should vote for secession, we also figure that about 61 percent of the voters next year would be voters who would live in a new Valley city,” said Close.

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