By JASON BOOTH Staff Reporter For two decades, Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association President Richard Close has taken on the powers that be. In 1978, he was a key figure in the campaign to pass landmark tax rollback initiative Proposition 13. Later, he organized the homeowner group opposition to expanding the Burbank Airport terminal and fought to limit development along Ventura Boulevard and in other parts of the San Fernando Valley . But Close may be playing his biggest role yet as co-chairman of Valley Vote, the group that spearheaded legislation AB 62 to take away the L.A. City Council’s ability to veto independent cityhood for the San Fernando Valley. As this issue went to press, the legislation was awaiting Gov. Wilson’s signature in Sacramento. If approved, Close and other secessionists will begin the petition campaign to put a Valley cityhood measure on the ballot. Close is a partner with the law firm Shapiro, Rosenfeld & Close in Century City, specializing in real estate law. Question: After years of working together with the Los Angeles government, why have you chosen to go against the system? Answer: Having spent 20 years working with the L.A. city system, I realize how important and necessary it is for the Valley to become independent. The City Council is inefficient, ineffective, and they really don’t care about the problems of the businesses and the residents. What they care about is the perpetuation of their positions. You only have to look at the condition of the roads, the response time of the police department, the graffiti that remains indefinitely. It is a bureaucracy that is not interested in making this a better city. The best example is if you stand on the border of North Hollywood and Burbank. You look at North Hollywood and you see graffiti, potholes, bars on the windows. Burbank is clean, safe no graffiti. Burbank takes care of its community, L.A. city doesn’t. I see a parallel between Valley secession and Prop. 13. Both are about people being frustrated, unable to get government to respond to their needs. So people go outside the system to structure a change. Q: If the Valley secedes, it is going to need a mayor. Would you be interested? A: Absolutely not. I like practicing law. I think that anyone who plays a leadership role on this issue should state unequivocally that they are not interested in any public office in the Valley. This should not be perceived as a quest for political position in the new city, so I will not run. Q: Have you received any pressure from downtown over your role in the secession movement? A: No, for a couple of reasons. I don’t work for the city, I don’t lobby the city on behalf of clients. There is very little they could do to pressure me. Secondly, they know that if they did pressure me I would plaster their names all over town. I would do all I could to let the public know who is pressuring and why. I have to say one thing about L.A.: For all its faults, nobody has ever tried to pressure me on any of these issues. Q: How did you get involved in the secession issue? A: When the Assembly passed the bill, meaning the Valley could secede, we decided we had to form a group to spearhead the legislation. I had a number of names of people from the homeowners committee I thought would be good to head the group, but as is often the case, I got hoodwinked into becoming co-chair. I was going to help set it up and walk away and let other people run it, but I ended up getting stuck. Q: How do you juggle a full-time career as a lawyer with your role as a political activist? A: It is called delegation. It is unfair that I often get the praise, as well as the criticism, for work that is really done by others. The key of what I do is the delegation of decision-making to other people. I don’t want power, just the opposite. I want to do as little as possible and have other volunteers doing it. I rarely do any of this activity during the day. If someone wants to meet with me it will have to be in the evening or the weekend, I have a law practice to run. Q: What does the Valley have to gain from its independence? A: I think the most important reason is that the public in L.A. has no control over its local government. Local government cannot serve 3,900,000 residents. Local government cannot be one council person for every 230,000 residents. People want to get back to basics, to be more like Burbank and Glendale, where if you have a problem you drive five minutes on a Tuesday night, maybe sit down with the City Council people, talk and solve the problem. In L.A., if you have a problem you can’t speak to your council member. If you want to go to the City Council you have to drive three hours round trip. You have to take the day off work because they only meet during the day, and they only let the public talk to them at the end of the meeting for a maximum of three minutes, when most of them are on the phone, having lunch or talking to their colleagues. People want to see a local government that is local. A lot of the dissatisfaction is due to cable television. For the last couple of years, Channel 35 has broadcast council meetings. For the first time people can see the quality of their local officials in action, and a lot of the people who watch it laugh at the childish games that take place at these meetings. It is an advertisement for the Valley becoming a separate city. I can envision having snippets from those council meetings as part of an advertising campaign for the Valley seceding. Q: Was there a single incident that made you decide that the Valley should secede? A: The Valley has paid about $1.3 billion in sales tax toward the construction of the subway. But all we are getting for our money is a single station in North Hollywood. As a separate city we will be able to go to Washington. That money will come to the Valley and stay in the Valley. This is an opportunity for the Valley to be the sixth largest city in the nation, to get its funding and solve its problems in a professional way that is not happening now. Q: How would secession benefit Valley business? A: Right now Valley companies pay a 10 percent utility tax. They don’t pay that tax in Glendale, San Fernando or Burbank. So right now we are at a competitive disadvantage. I anticipate that the utility tax would not exist if we seceded. It has also been documented that the L.A. city’s gross receipts tax is a tremendous burden to the businesses. If other cities in the Valley do not have such an extensive business license tax, I anticipate the Valley would also not have one. We might ask Valley businesses to put into the secession war chest one year’s savings from the utility tax and gross receipts tax. That’s why I anticipate a lot of business supporting this effort because they have an economic benefit besides good government. Q: What would you call this new city? A: Some people say North Los Angeles. A commonly used name is city of the San Fernando Valley. The problem with that is, there is already a city of San Fernando. Jokingly I often respond that the best name would be North Beverly Hills. That would certainly increase property prices. Q: So, if the Valley secedes, will you move your office over there? A: I would love to, but my clients wouldn’t like it. Anyway, I’m a big believer in cross-border trade.