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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023


The passage of time, the prospect of charter reform and the realization that secession is loaded with unforeseeable consequences have robbed momentum from the San Fernando Valley’s movement for independence. While Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment, or VOTE, forges ahead with its campaign to prompt the Local Agency Formation Commission to study secession, many others in the community are taking a wait-and-see attitude. “It just seems to me the movement has lost steam,” said Richard Lichtenstein, a political consultant with Marathon Communications in Los Angeles. “There’s a silent majority that is either uninterested or not emotional enough.” Indeed, Valley VOTE was recently prompted to ask for an extension of the 90-day time limit for gathering the 180,000 signatures needed on its petition directing LAFCO to study secession. The organization’s president, Jeff Brain, contended that in order to meet the deadline, Valley VOTE would have to gather 2,000 signatures a day, which would be all but impossible. A 90-day extension was granted but critics say Valley VOTE would have had no trouble working within the original time frame if the cause had the grass-roots momentum it claims. Meanwhile, two prominent Valley businessmen are so unsure of the public sentiment that they have commissioned a survey to measure it. “Maybe people don’t really care,” said David Fleming, chairman of the Economic Alliance, who, along with Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Ford in Van Nuys, has formed a group called the San Fernando Valley Citizens Information Regarding Valley Independence Cityhood. But Fleming doesn’t really believe Valley residents are apathetic. It’s more likely, according to Fleming and many others who are watching the issue, that the feelings that gave rise to the movement to secede a belief that Valley residents are over-taxed and under-serviced are still prevalent. What has changed is the perception that secession is the only answer to the problems. “There was a time when the folks in the Valley would be running around screaming and making angry statements about the folks in Los Angeles,” said Planning Commissioner Bob Scott, who has spoken in support of secession in the past. “Everyone’s taking a thoughtful look at it rather than stirring up rhetoric.” A report issued earlier this year by the state Board of Equalization found that the Valley, with 34.4 percent of the population of Los Angeles, generated 41.9 percent of sales tax revenues last year. But sales taxes are only one indicator of the economic feasibility of an independent Valley. What’s needed is hard data to explain what secession would mean to day-to-day lives. “People want facts,” said Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, D-Panorama City. “They want to understand what the consequences (of secession) would be.” Even Fleming, who has been a supporter of secession, says it’s time to take a deep breath and examine the dollars and cents of the idea. CIVIC will commission a study to “gather information as to what the voters would need, want or require to make an intelligent decision on whether the Valley should secede or not,” Fleming said. “Most of that information is economic. We’ll bring in an outside organization that can do an audit and really find out what’s the market value of assets and the extent of liabilities.” In theory, an independent Valley would have greater latitude to solve problems of the economy, crime, transportation and all the other modern-day ills, but without facts and figures to prove it, the Valley business community is showing a decided preference for focusing on the problems themselves. When the Valley Industry and Commerce Association asked its members to rate the importance of 12 issues, Valley incorporation turned up ninth on the list. Charter reform, at No. 6, fared somewhat better, but the real chart-toppers were economic development, public safety, transportation, education and taxes, in that order. VICA has not taken a position on secession and the survey was not designed for that purpose, but its results are revealing nonetheless. “The first five are quality-of-life issues,” said Steve Lew, VICA chairman. “That’s not to say that the others aren’t, but it’s a matter of the things people are dealing with today.” Many argue that what gave secession its aura of broad support initially was a general dissatisfaction with government as usual. “There’s a nerve that’s being touched,” said Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg, D-Sherman Oaks. “It’s part of a larger issue of where we are going in government.” But ultimately, the secession movement may prove more useful as a way to leverage the clout of the Valley in charter-reform discussions than as a way of actually achieving independence. All that, however, could change if charter reform does not turn out to be the answer some expect, say Valley VOTE officials, who are plowing ahead to put secession on the ballot by the year 2000. Valley VOTE Chairman Richard H. Close estimates that the organization will need about $300,000 to gather enough signatures to approve the LAFCO study, and another $200,000 to $400,000 to help finance the study. He said the base of support exists to reach that goal. “What we’re finding is, we have the support of those who believe independence should take place,” said Close. “Then we also have the support of people who want to study the item.” Even if Valley VOTE is successful in getting the signatures required to study the feasibility of secession, the movement still has a long way to go. LAFCO, for example, has never done a study of the kind that would be required for secession the agency usually prepares feasibility studies for cities being created out of unincorporated areas, not breakaway situations. Because of opposition from the Los Angeles City Council, it is unlikely the city would fund the study which could force backers to raise private funds for the effort. Finally, any cityhood proposal would have to be approved by a majority of voters in the entire city, and not just the Valley. Valley VOTE expects to begin gathering signatures for its petition in May. VOTE officials said the organization has thus far signed on 2,000 volunteers. The group has set up a storefront on Ventura Boulevard and retained two attorneys to assist in the effort. Because it is not registered as a political organization, VOTE will not be required to disclose its expenditures. If it were to become independent, the San Fernando Valley would be the nation’s sixth largest city with a population of 1.2 million people. In addition to the San Fernando Valley, there are secession movements afoot in Antelope Valley and in San Pedro. The road to secession was cleared last year when Assembly Bill 62 was passed. That bill stripped city councils of the power to veto secession. The last time a similar secession movement occurred in California was 90 years ago.

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