The San Fernando Valley has long been one of the more inviting elements of the Los Angeles dream.
It was a song, "The San Fernando Valley," first recorded by Bing Crosby in 1942, that spread the vision: "I'm packing my grip, I'm leaving today, I'm gonna settle down and nevermore roam and make the San Fernando Valley my home."
After hearing those words float through their dusty training camps, troop ships and mess halls, a lot of World War II GIs took the advice. With their GI loans and their postwar hopes, the vets and their families settled down in North Hollywood, Van Nuys and other Valley farming communities that were suddenly transformed into suburbia. Hundreds of thousands followed, moving from other parts of the country and older sections of L.A.
The Valleyites were predominantly white and middle class. The Valley was not for the very rich or the very poor. The residents shopped in the Valley, found their entertainment there and, perhaps most important, sent their children to neighborhood schools.
The public schools became the most important institution in this family-oriented suburb. I saw that in the late '70s while covering the long legal fight over Los Angeles school integration.
None resisted these plans more fiercely than white Valley parents. At first, I dismissed them as bigots. But after going to many parents meetings and talking to troubled moms and dads, I saw it was much more complicated.
Some were bigots. But I found that most seemed driven by a sense of place, of neighborhood, of community. Their Valley was a place apart from the rest of the city. What the Valleyites really wanted was to secede from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Blocked from secession, they relied on the Valley's two board representatives to protect their schools.
Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council decided this sense of place was out of place in the new L. A.
The council, which has the responsibility for drawing school board district boundary lines, voted tentatively to eliminate one of the Valley seats. It created an odd, sausage-shaped district that includes part of the Valley, but also reaches into East L. A. It was designed to bring many Latino neighborhoods into one district and ensure the election of a second Latino to the Board of Education.
The council majority said it drew the districts to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, designed to ensure adequate representation for ethnic minorities on the board.
The board has only one Latina member, Leticia Quezada, from the heavily Latino Eastside. Yet 65% of L. A. public school students are Latino.
The Valley has become increasingly Latino in the past decade. But the gain has not produced another Latino school board member. For although Latinos account for about 40% of L. A.'s population, they comprise just 13% of the city's registered voters.
The effort to pull together Latino voters resulted in the new sausage of a district.
The idea of the Valley as a place, as a state of mind, did not seem important to the council majority or their supporters during the debate.
I discussed this with one of the proponents of the plan, Ruben Rodriguez of the Latino Council for Fair Redistricting of the San Fernando Valley.
When Latinos move to the middle-class neighborhoods of the Valley, I said, don't they adopt the Valley's middle-class, suburban outlook on life?
I told Rodriguez about a study done for The Times a few years ago by UC Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain. Cain had tracked Latino families as they moved through the generations from poor Eastside neighborhoods to middle-class and upper-middle-class Valley areas. He found that they tended to become more conservative, switching from Democratic to Republican voting.
"They may be a little affected," Rodriguez said. But he said ethnic loyalties, the ethnic culture, remains dominant.
In addition, a substantial number of Valley Latinos are poor, he said. The Valley is no longer a middle-class haven. The special educational needs of the Latino poor, he added, need a stronger voice on the board.
"The real issue is whether you can have schools that are 65% Latino and have only one representative on the board," he said.
Next week, Valley Councilwoman Joy Picus will lead an effort to reverse this week's vote. That won't be the end of it, however.
The idea of community remains strong, and not only among Anglos. Some Valley Latino and African-Americans oppose the plan. They also see the Valley as a distinct place that needs two board members.
Whatever the result Tuesday, the dispute is so deeply rooted in the L. A. psyche, so fundamental, that it promises to continue long after the council vote.