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CSUN Student's Study Shows Valley Gets Share of Services

Finances: Though incomplete, the class project indicates the city spends in rough proportion to population.

May 30, 1996|JILL LEOVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NORTHRIDGE — Contradicting claims that the San Fernando Valley does not get its fair share of city services, a Cal State Northridge economics student said Wednesday that spending in the Valley in several key areas is nearly on par with its per-capita representation.

The Valley represents about one-third of the city's population and receives only slightly less than one-third of its expenditures in the areas examined, said Brodie Carroll, a 23-year-old CSUN undergraduate who spent his spring semester studying portions of the city's budget for a class project on the "fair share" issue.

Whether the Valley is receiving its fair share of city services for the amount of tax money it contributes is at the heart of the debate over the Valley seceding from Los Angeles. Advocates of secession have claimed that the Valley contributes more than twice as much in tax money as it receives in services and hence would benefit financially from breaking away.

The results of Carroll's study, actually a class project for a senior economics seminar, hint otherwise, although the study is far from conclusive.

Carroll himself is no economist--yet. And by his own admission, the project is incomplete--accounting for about half the city's total expenditures--and its methodology is rife with assumptions and uncertainties. But it's one of the few attempts so far to get a handle on a central question in the secession debate.

Response to the study was swift. "My belief off the top is that it's inaccurate," said Marvin Selter, chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., which supports a bill to make secession easier to achieve.

Countered Jeff Druyun, legislative analyst with the city: "Looks like it's fair."

The real lesson from Carroll's effort is that parsing out Valley expenditures from the city budget is so problematic that "it really shouldn't be the primary issue [in secession]--this giving and getting," he said. "The real issue is: Is a government this size efficient?"

The economics major looked at 10 areas of city spending, including police and street maintenance. He was unable to get information in some categories due to lack of time, and in others he was unable to come up with a logical way to break out Valley expenditures from the total, he said.

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While relative spending in the Valley was greater in some areas and lower in others, overall about 30% of the almost $2.2 billion examined was spent in the Valley, he said.

Carroll calculated the Valley's population at 1.23 million people, or about 34% of the city. He did not attempt to find out how much the Valley contributes to the city budget in taxes.

But his findings convinced him that a study from the late 1970s that concluded that the Valley contributed 40 cents in taxes for every 15 cents it received in services "was just wrong," he said. The study, by the Committee Investigating Valley Independent City/County, "was based on shaky assumptions and the method was incorrect," Carroll said.

The reality is far less clear and the inequities less stark than the CIVICC study indicated, Carroll argues.

Not true, said Grieg Smith, spokesman for City Councilman Hal Bernson, who helped with the CIVICC study. "We made some errors," Smith said. But "ours was much more detailed."

A full accounting of the city's spending would show a much smaller share allocated to the Valley, he maintains.

According to Carroll, the Valley's share of city spending in 1995-96 is 37% for animal regulation, 34% for building and safety, 14% for capital projects, 31% for fire protection, 27% for police protection, 26% for recreation and parks, 33% for sanitation, 38% for street maintenance, 24% for transportation and 26% for city attorney services.

But "it's impossible to look at every dollar in this book," he added, fingering a well-thumbed copy of the city's budget.

For example, Carroll omitted from his calculation on city police spending all services headquartered outside the Valley, such as homicide investigations, even though the Valley may get some benefit from them.

The same is true for the calculations on parks and recreation, which omit the costs of running the Los Angeles Zoo, for instance.

Critics on both sides of the issue found plenty to quibble with in Carroll's study. Spending on parks, for example, might appear to be lower in the Valley, but that is countered by the fact that the Valley probably enjoys more park space per capita than other parts of the city, said Druyun.

Street maintenance spending might be temporarily skewed due to earthquake repairs, said Smith, the spokesman for Bernson, who recently voted to support pending state legislation that would make it easier for the Valley to secede.

And even if all sides were to agree on the conclusions, interpretations differ.

Selter, the VICA chairman, suggested that the Valley could be the unhappy victim of too much government spending. "Are we overstaffed in some areas?" he asked.

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