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Will Valley Secession Fly With All of L.A.’s Voters?

Will Valley Secession Fly With All of L.A.’s Voters? by Jacqueline Fox Despite questions concerning alimony, stranded costs and the division of assets, the Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis, the final report released by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) Jan. 9, says a Valley split is possible and viable. The new Valley city would have to contract for all municipal services with Los Angeles for as long as the first three years not exactly true independence, but supporters say it’s a plan they can live with. The next step is LAFCO’s: to decide whether to put the issue to the voters in November. But, before that, we’re likely to have what Sandra Winger, the agency’s deputy executive director, called “six months of pain.” Here’s what happens next: – The State Controller’s Office prepares to answer requests for audits of the CFA. The Service Employees International Union Local 347 has already vowed to request one. – Roughly 16 public hearings will take place. – LAFCO Executive Director Larry J. Calemine will draft a final recommendation to the nine-member LAFCO panel, including special terms and conditions of a breakup. – LAFCO commissioners must vote before mid-August to either craft a ballot initiative on secession or reject it. If they reject the idea, applicants will have to wait a year to re-apply. Assuming there is an initiative on the November ballot, secessionists will face a costly and complicated campaign. They not only have to convince a majority of Valley voters that a breakup is best, a majority of all Los Angeles voters must approve. They will also go up against Mayor James K. Hahn who has vowed to raise $5 million to defeat the initiative. The Business Journal recently asked a few well-known political strategists not associated with either side of the secession debate what they would do if it were their job to win passage. – Jacqueline Fox Howard Sunkin Vice president, Cerrell Associates “Professionally, I think their message has to be very simple: that a new city will create a new empowerment for the residents. “They would have to raise an enormous amount of money to get across their message that this is good for the residents of the San Fernando Valley, but I couldn’t even begin to figure out the budget. I think they would have to raise in excess of $25 million to put out a viable campaign, but this won’t be easy. “There’s a reason this has never happened in the history of the United States of America and, frankly, I don’t see it going well. Perhaps these people should take their energy, take their involvement and work with the new city government to form a more productive system that is, in their eyes, a responsive government, if that’s what this is all about. “In other words, if they hired me I wouldn’t take the job.” Doug Jeffe Principal, Issues Management Network Inc. “I think ultimately this is going to be very difficult to get approved, particularly because you need voters both within the Valley and citywide to approve it. I consider it to be quite a formidable challenge to do that. “But in terms of strategy, I think you have to, if you will, answer the questions that people are going to have. The electorate at this stage of the game is not going to be predisposed to take chances and, certainly for the voters in the city who are not in the Valley, you have to demonstrate no-harm, no-foul, that there isn’t a negative thing there for them. “The burden is to show economic deficiencies on the part of how the Valley is being served, but I think you have to make a strong case that the city of Los Angeles would function better by being smaller, and that’s a very difficult case to make. But when you are dealing with this kind of an issue, I think it’s inevitable that you have to address that side.” Richard Lichtenstein President, Marathon Communications “The secession issue is far more complex than ‘We aren’t getting enough services, or our fair share of services,’ and the argument won’t resonate in the face of the opposition campaign that will be run by the mayor or the unions. “The last major citywide election I ran was for charter reform. The way that campaign or any citywide campaign was or will be successful is through the building of the most unbelievable coalition of supporters, whether by age, sex, gender or ethnicity. But, to date, the proponents of the idea seem to be few in numbers. “Another challenge is how to finance the thing. It’s pretty clear how the opponents are going to finance it, but not as clear where the money for proponents is going to come from. How much money are people like Burt Boeckman going to want to put into this? People behind the mayor won’t be limited to a $500 contribution as with other campaigns, so (secessionists) are going to need more than just the Daily News writing an editorial every day to make it happen.” Harvey Englander Senior vice president and general manager, The MWW Group “The biggest issue is, no question, going to be about money, and the money to support the initiative is going to be raised by about 20 to 30 people in this kind of a campaign. They have a terrific database for grassroots volunteers and those who will give an average contribution of $50. But it’s the big donors who are going to get together in a room and sit down and write the first installment of those checks. “I think the voters want to have the option in November to decide this and, from what I’ve been reading, it’s getting so acrimonious I think people in the Valley are getting prepared to say, ‘Let’s vote and, if we don’t like the terms, we can always go to court.’ So, proponents should be going forward and saying that, ‘Yes, divorces are messy, municipal divorces may be even messier and we may have to go back and clean it up, but let’s get it done now.’ “I don’t really think that they need a very strong message, because they are just voting for secession. The message should be on why this is going to better. Later details can be worked out.”

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