SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Proponents of San Fernando Valley secession have enlisted the aid of 11 local businesses for their petition drive to study the feasibility of the Valley breaking away from the rest of Los Angeles. Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment, or VOTE, hopes to gather 135,000 signatures to require the Local Agency Formation Commission of Los Angeles to initiate the study. The group is using the businesses as checkpoints where Valley residents can pick up petitions or, in some cases, sign them at the location. “The biggest problem in such an effort of such diverse geography is the logistics,” said Jeff Brain, VOTE’s president. “So we tried to find chains with an evenly distributed mix of businesses.” So far, 23 different outlets including five branch offices of American Pacific State Bank, seven Kentucky Fried Chicken stores and five Jiffy Lube shops are participating in the effort. VOTE is continuing to recruit additional companies, officials said. The shopkeepers represent a cross section of views on secession. Some, like Sam Hashim, who owns the KFC restaurants participating in the drive, would like to see the Valley get its own government. “I don’t like to go down to L.A. This way we would have our own processes,” he said. But most others say they’ve taken up the cause because they want more information on what secession might mean for them and the community. “I’m not saying I’m pro or con,” said Kenneth Gerston, chief executive of Continental Coin Corp., a Sherman Oaks store that specializes in buying and selling jewelry and foreign currency. “But we certainly need the analysis.” Most merchants said they don’t see the petition drive as a political issue. “It’s not a petition to secede, it’s a petition to get the facts,” said Tony Fanticola, owner of 13 Jiffy Lubes in the Valley and L.A. “If I want to know, my customers would want to know too.” At Northridge Pharmacy & Gift Gallery, owner Barry Pascal has trained his staff to gather signatures. Pascal said that clerks ask pharmacy customers if they’ve signed the petition, and, if a customer is not aware of what it is, they explain it and answer any questions. “I’ve been explaining it to one person, and four other people will come up and sign it,” said Pascal, who estimates that he has collected over 100 signatures in just one-and-a-half weeks. Pascal, who is not a member of VOTE, said that until now, allowing the sale of Girl Scout cookies outside the front door was about as much activism as he’s allowed. But he believes that the success of the petition drive is critical if the Valley is to wield any political clout in the future. “If we don’t get this to LAFCO, we’ll deliver the most powerful negative message about the San Fernando Valley; that you (government) don’t have to reckon with us; you don’t have to listen to us and you don’t have to pay attention to us,” he said. Others are more pragmatic about their participation. “I just did this as a favor to a woman who is a customer,” said Alan Kaminsky, the owner of PostNet, a mailing services company in Chatsworth. “I would like to see it pass, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” Kaminsky does not solicit his customers, instead posting a sign that announces the availability of the petitions. “I have the petitions on the counter,” he said. “It’s up to people whether they want to sign.” A few merchants, however, said they do harbor some concerns about alienating customers by agreeing to participate in the drive. “I’m sticking my neck out,” said Kathy Anthony, owner of Kathy’s Kreatures, a tailor shop in Sunland, an activist who recently helped win approval for the Red Tail Golf and Equestrian Project. “I had people call me and say, ‘I’ll never walk into the store again,'” Anthony said of the reaction she got to her Red Tail efforts. But in the Valley at least, the petition drive has proven to be far less inflammatory than land-use issues such as Red Tail. Sonny Laubhan, co-owner of Hair in L.A., a salon in Tarzana, is one of a number of participants who said he’s gotten very little feedback from customers, one way or another. Then too, Laubhan said a business like his may be fairly insulated from backlash. “Personally, if you find somebody who’s doing your hair right, he’s got to do a whole lot wrong to turn you off,” Laubhan said. Business consultants say that participating in a drive such as the one to study Valley cityhood actually may enhance a retailer’s standing in the community. “It can make the store look like a concerned neighbor,” said Lynne Doll, executive vice president and partner at Rogers & Associates, a Century City public relations firm. Doll said efforts like these often make customers feel more loyal to a retailer, provided customers share the same opinions. “All of us want to work with people who think similarly.” Indeed, James Ganatta, a customer at the Northridge Pharmacy, who had already signed the petition elsewhere, was glad to see the store taking part in the petition drive. “My first impression is, it shows a community involvement,” he said. The store owners who have agreed to participate said that it is too early to tell how successful their efforts have been. The petition drive is expected to last 60 days.