L.A. mayoral candidates: prepare your pens. With the threat of secession giving newfound political power to the San Fernando Valley, local business and political organizations are grilling candidates about their positions on key Valley issues as never before. More than a year before voters head for the polls, they are asking for written statements from each candidate spelling out their positions on these issues. Last month, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association put out its first mayoral survey, asking candidates to state whether they support or oppose a legislative bill that would kill a separate Valley transit district. VICA supports a separate transit district. And in the next month, Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment, the group pushing for a study of secession, will send out a candidate questionnaire asking a number of secession-related questions. The organization will then issue grades to each candidate based on his or her position toward secession. While candidate surveys are nothing new for political elections, the Valley efforts are more organized than in previous years and press candidates to address early the most controversial city issue secession. “There have always been groups asking candidates their position on the Valley,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. “Obviously, there’s been such organizing around gathering signatures for the (secession) study, and they’re much more organized than before.” This time, Guerra said, Valley organizations are not only more unified but have a better feel for the major issues affecting the Valley because they have been out gathering signatures and, to some extent, taking the temperature of Valley voters. Richard Katz, a former Valley assemblyman who organized the VICA effort, said VICA members were angry that candidates were giving ambiguous answers to questions, and many of those currently holding public office were voting against VICA’s positions on various legislation. “The Valley has gone through other elections where our votes are taken for granted,” Katz said. “This is a way to hold people accountable.” The goal is threefold, Katz said. First, the group hopes to educate the candidates about VICA’s positions on business issues impacting the Valley. Second, candidates can be evaluated based on their responses to the questions. And third, the survey prevents candidates from voting on a position VICA opposes and then saying they didn’t know the group was against it. Getting its views across Katz said candidates come to VICA for endorsements and support, but by putting out position papers asking candidates to state their own positions, the group is going to the candidates before the candidates come to them. “We decided to take a proactive view this time,” Katz said. “We’re saying, ‘Here is our position in the business community, and if you are mayor, do you support our view?'” Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, said the group is planning a similar drive this fall. “We don’t endorse candidates, so this is a way to publicize who we’re friends with and who are not friends,” Close said. VOTE decided on the grades after Service Employees International Union Local 347, which represents city workers, asked mayoral candidates in May to sign a pledge against secession. Four of the five mayoral candidates responded to VICA’s survey by the Aug. 4 deadline real estate developer Steve Soboroff, former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilman Joel Wachs and Congressman Xavier Becerra. City Attorney James Hahn failed to respond. VICA also sent a survey to state Controller Kathleen Connell, who is expected to announce her candidacy soon; she didn’t send in a response because she hadn’t yet thrown her hat in the ring, according to a spokesman. Hahn didn’t return calls from the Business Journal. “I feel like I want to be very accessible to them to answer their questions,” Soboroff said. “It’s another way to see what a community’s interests are.” Villaraigosa sent in the survey but refused to sign pledges on his positions, instead spelling out his general feelings on the issues without making solid commitments. “The goal is to communicate his position to as many groups as are interested, particularly high-profile groups that share the information with their constituencies,” said Elena Stern, director of communications for Villaraigosa. “He’s hesitant to take pledges per se and he believes he can make his position known without taking a blood oath.” Important group of voters Katz was nonplussed about the fact that not all candidates responded. “I think it’s successful even if no one responds,” Katz said. “If someone decides not to respond, it sends a message. Those that don’t respond do it at their own peril.” While the Valley accounts for one-third of L.A.’s overall population, it has 40 percent of the city’s registered voters. “Those asking the questions are opinion leaders and they affect how voters are focused. It matters a lot (if candidates respond),” Guerra said. “You cannot ignore the majority group in an area that includes close to 50 percent of voters.” Yet Valley VOTE’s survey hasn’t proven particularly effective in the past. The group put out a rating for council candidates on similar secession issues in the 1999 race for City Council District 7. Alex Padilla, the winner, got a C, while candidate Corinne Sanchez was graded an A. Close said he isn’t deterred by the poor results. “This is just one of many issues (voters looked at),” Close said. “We never want it to be said this should be the most important issue.” VICA will release its results to the public later this month. And other surveys, on issues ranging from utility rates to business taxes, are being considered. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we do it again,” Katz said. Valley VOTE is also considering surveying and rating candidates in the city attorney’s race, because that person could control whether or not the city sues over secession, Close said. Guerra expects other areas mulling secession, such as Hollywood and San Pedro, to follow the Valley efforts.