83.9 F
San Fernando
Friday, Dec 8, 2023


David Fleming may have lived in Southern California for decades, but he describes himself as a man who arrived in the San Fernando Valley of the 1950s to find a place very much like the Iowa community he had left behind part of a large city in name only, but really a collection of villages where much of the civic life revolved around voluntary organizations. Today the lawyer with the firm of Latham & Watkins has a different view of his Valley of villages from an office on the 25th floor of a Universal City high-rise. His firm belief that this community of 1.6 million people can return to something close to what he discovered more than 40 years ago has made him one of the highest-profile supporters of Valley secession. But, of course, the man who is of counsel to the sixth largest law firm in the world is certainly more than just a one-issue advocate. In fact, his list of philanthropic and civic activities seems almost endless. He is president of the Los Angeles Board of Fire Commissioners and former vice chairman of the California Transportation Commission. Fleming chairs the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation and, for the last 12 years, the Board of the Valley Presbyterian Hospital. He and his wife Jean have contributed more than $3 million to various charities and he has been a close adviser to Mayor Richard Riordan. Still, it apparently is difficult to separate Fleming from one of the most controversial subjects of the day, secession. Indeed, it is hard to stop him from expressing his views on the subject when he gets on a roll. After all, as Fleming is quick to point out, “This is the only major city with a mountain range running through it. It really is the continental divide of Los Angeles.” Question: In the media, you are typically characterized by your civic and philanthropic activities and, of course, your interest in Valley secession. But what do you do in your professional life? Answer: I’ve been of counsel with Latham & Watkins since 1992. I generate business for the firm and I do some direct work in areas of corporate and environmental law. I interface between many of our clients and government. A lot of the time that I spend is in civic, community and government activities. I like economic development. Whatever I can do to strengthen the economy of this area helps everyone. Consequently, economic development is close to my heart. Indirectly, it helps our clients and it helps many of my friends in government. The better the economy does, the better they do. Q: In a nutshell, why do you believe secession is a good idea? A: Los Angeles has to realize that it isn’t one city anymore, that it isn’t one community. You have got to deliver local things on a local basis, regional things on a regional basis. The City of Los Angeles covers nearly 500 square miles. It’s 60 miles from one tip to the other. That’s not a community, that’s a region. Q: Putting aside the arguments for or against it as secession regards the Valley or the region, why are you so personally committed to it? A: I was born in Iowa and lived there the first 22 years of my life. I settled in the Valley in 1956 and it was much the same way. It was a series of villages. They pretty much did things on their own although they were a part of the City of Los Angeles. Taking a page out of de Tocqueville, most of the stuff that went on in the Valley was the result of civic organizations. That’s what cities and communities and villages are all about, but that isn’t what Los Angeles is all about. I’ve always been a government policy wonk and I’ve lived here now for almost 50 years. I’ve seen the changes. I’ve seen government become more and more detached and services have deteriorated. I’ve seen too many people disappointed and they shouldn’t be because this is a marvelous area. Q: What is ahead for the Valley secession movement? A: It’s supposed to hit the ballot in 2002. A few years ago, I thought this was kind of a long shot. Now I don’t think so. From our information, it looks like it’s going to pass pretty comfortably. My sneaking suspicion is that people will wake up the next day and, instead of one city in Los Angeles, there will be four (if secession movements in San Pedro and Hollywood are also successful). You won’t see any difference (at first). I think the Valley will probably contract for the first couple of years with the city of Los Angeles to continue the services we have now. But the Valley will have its own government and be able to begin an evolutionary process to develop into the kind of city all of Los Angeles should have become years ago. Q: Why should the Valley business community support secession? A: First, the city taxation policy is absolutely atrocious. We’ve got all these different taxes. It’s a hodge-podge, it’s terrible: Businesses aren’t able to vote, so let’s tax businesses. This is one of the most anti-businesses cities in America because of the taxing structure. If the Valley were a separate city, the taxing structure would change drastically. Second, we would go out and fight to get businesses here and make this a very, very business-friendly area. I would not be surprised eventually to see some very major corporations move into the Valley and say this is a good place to do business. Q: If there were to be substantial business tax reform in a new Valley city, would there also be some alternative revenue sources to pay for the cost of running a new government? A: That assumes the city can’t cut anything. This city has been all things to all people for too long. I see this (new) city cutting back in the way they’re spending money. Public safety should be number one and pull back on some of the feel-good programs this city has adopted. I look at the other small cities in this region. For the most part, they don’t engage in some of the programs the city of Los Angeles does. Q: Your good friend Mayor Richard Riordan is on record as opposing secession. How do you two reconcile your differences on this issue? A: We’ve had some conversations about it. We’ve agreed to disagree. Q: What is your view on the potential breakup of LAUSD, with or without Valley secession? A: It has got to be broken up. I’ve gotten to the point where I think LAUSD is so big and so fossilized that it would be impossible to make it work. When you consider the number of people who work in administration and absolutely eat up the budget, the money never gets down to the classroom. Again, smaller is better, local is better. We just break LAUSD up into a lot of school districts. But you’ve got to take one thing at a time and right now secession is in front of the voters. Q: Do you see yourself having a substantial official role in any new city? A: No, I’ll just stand on the sidelines and cheer and feel like I’ve done something. Some of the other folks feel the same way. I know Bert Boeckman and Richard Close do. I don’t think any one of us wants to be in office. Q: What do you say to those who complain that the various secession movements would leave Los Angeles a city abandoned to low-income minority communities? A: First, if you look at the ethnic breakdown of the Valley and the rest of the city, it’s almost a mirror. You have the same mix south of Mulholland as you do north of Mulholland. Second, I am now informed by (a recent city study that) the Valley only contributes 31 percent of the city’s taxes. According to their figures, the Valley gets more than it gives, so the city ought to be better off including all those minorities that are on the other side, OK? So there’s hardly going to be a ripple if the Valley leaves. If you can enhance the economic development of any area that’s either in the city of Los Angeles or contiguous to the city of Los Angeles, you’re going to help everybody. To me, the answer in minority areas is to empower them, to give them the power to make decisions and pull themselves up and come up with a taxing system that’s going to allow them to generate a better economy. You can’t do that in a one-size-fits all-city like Los Angeles. No matter what program you’ve got, it’s got to be divisible by 15 and everybody’s got to get their fair share including the West Side, that doesn’t need it.

Featured Articles

Related Articles