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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022
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Valley Business Organizations Gaining Clout

Mayor James Hahn is trying to give Los Angeles residents the impression that they have a say in which direction their city heads. When he prepared last year’s budget, he asked neighborhood councils to list their priorities, and wrote the budget accordingly. Recently, on the day of a debate with his four major challengers in the mayoral race, Hahn announced that he was tripling the budget of every neighborhood council to $100,000. “The councils are new, but they have a lot of cache in the city,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at the University of California Fullerton who studies Los Angeles politics. “But it’s unclear as to how they’re going to wield that cache.” While neighborhood councils are making a lot of noise, some of the Valley’s local business organizations are quietly advancing their own agendas as they grow into stronger political players. In passing some of the most significant business legislation of the past year, Councilmember Wendy Greuel worked hand in hand with VICA, and created a grassroots coalition of business supporters to help push business tax reforms through the city council. When North Valley company Gold Graphics was struggling and in debt, City Council President Alex Padilla collaborated with the VEDC and the two offices respectively secured a $600,000 economic development loan and a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to pull the stumbling company back onto its feet. Groups like the VEDC, the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley and VICA in particular have been seeing their stock rise for years, Sonenshein said. “They definitely have some influence, more than they used to 15 or 20 years ago, when business politics in Los Angeles pretty much meant the downtown business community,” he said. “Their positions are taken into account a lot. To Valley councilmembers, they’re very important, and to citywide elected officials they’re very important.” Martin Cooper, the chairman of VICA’s board of directors, says the group’s influence stems from the its maturity and its ability to play politics without making enemies. Ask for endorsements ” I think that as an organization, we have an increasing amount of influence, and our positions are paid more attention to to the degree that they are rational and logical,” Cooper said. “I have been asked by more than once of the candidates for mayor for an endorsement.” Cooper said that he has denied all requests for endorsements because of his position at VICA, which never endorses candidates for public office. Cooper said that the group maintains good working relationships with every Valley councilmember, despite occasional disagreements. Dennis Zine, City Council representative for the third district, which includes Woodland Hills, Reseda and Canoga Park, said he found himself in disagreement with VICA when he opposed development in Ahmanson Ranch. The area was to become a residential development, but the plan was nixed. “We disagreed on that, but then I just got an e-mail from them saying they appreciated my stand on not supporting the half cent sales tax,” Zine said. Cooper said that VICA does not hold grudges when it comes to disagreements with lawmakers. “The reality is that, in a sense, we are all voyagers on this ship of sate, and there’s not a quick port where we can get off to get away from the other guy,” he said. “The responsibility of organizations like VICA is to deal with our elected officials in an arena of mutual respect and forthright discussion of issues.” Gaining access Padilla said he’s been working closely with the Sylmar and Pacoima chambers of commerce to set up business improvement districts, and said he’s always accessible to groups like VICA. “They know that with me it’s an open door,” Padilla said. “From time to time we’ve disagreed on an action. . .but we have a positive, substantive working relationship.” Greuel said that much of her success as a councilmember has come with the help of local business groups. “Whether it be a chamber of commerce, VICA or the Economic Alliance, they’ve had unprecedented access to my office. I worked hand in hand with them on business tax reform,” she said. The future of business advocacy in the Valley will not see neighborhood councils outshining or replacing groups like VICA while searching for their collective identity, Sonenshein said. “They won’t necessarily be more powerful than business groups,” he said. “Business groups are going to just have to take them into consideration, just as the rest of the city has had to take the Valley into consideration.”

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