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Secession Flap Gives Valley an Edge : Los Angeles: It's the original suburban dream neighborhood, and today's dreamers keep the focus true.

July 14, 1996|FRANK del OLMO | Frank del Olmo is assistant to the editor of The Times and a regular columnist

It looks as if the San Fernando Valley--the much misunderstood and oft-maligned part of Los Angeles where I grew up--will lose a battle in the Legislature that would have made it possible for the Valley to secede from the rest of the city. But no matter. We Valleyites have already won this war.

I am exaggerating a bit, of course. The struggle in Sacramento between Assemblywoman Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) and legislators from other parts of Los Angeles over AB 2403 was really little more than a skirmish. Boland's bill only made the secession process easier to start; it didn't make it happen.

AB 2403 would revoke a law enacted in 1978. Back then, in response to an earlier threat by Valley residents to bolt, the Legislature gave the City Council veto power over any secession effort--be it based in Sylmar, San Pedro or the dozens of other communities in between that periodically get annoyed with the powers-that-be in City Hall.

After getting through the Assembly with relative ease, Boland's bill has bogged down in the state Senate. There, Democratic Sen. Richard Polanco, who represents the city's Eastside and has made no secret of his desire to kill AB 2403, persuaded the Democratic Senate president, Bill Lockyer, to trap Boland's bill in committee. If AB 2403 is still in committee when the Legislature adjourns, which could be in the next few days, it dies.

Boland is crying foul but has little to complain about. She got loads of publicity with her bill, and that will make it easier for her to run for the state Senate in November now that her Assembly term is ending. And even if Boland never returns to Sacramento, someone will revive AB 2403, because the Valley's discontent with the rest of Los Angeles won't go away now, any more than it did in 1978.

The irony of this, as hinted above, is that while the Valley can legitimately grouse about being taken for granted at times by City Hall, it long ago won its cultural war with the rest of the metropolis that sprawls south of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Because the Valley is L.A.

For all the bad-mouthing the Valley's suburban sprawl gets from folks who wish L.A. were more New York-with-sunshine, all those tract houses built in the postwar years symbolize Los Angeles to outsiders. And most like what they see. Beverly Hills, after all, is too glitzy to seem attainable to folks in Chicago or Caracas. But they can aspire to live in nice places like Canoga Park, where even working-class families can own comfortable homes with big back yards.

Other parts of greater Los Angeles that grew after the Valley, from Camarillo to Costa Mesa, reflect the same dream of a cozy suburban life. In the ethnic enclaves of L.A.'s inner city, hard-working families strive for that dream closer to home, pursuing it to mostly black suburbs like Inglewood, mostly Asian suburbs like Monterey Park and mostly Latino suburbs like Montebello.

As banal as sophisticates might find such middle-class aspirations, they undergird the hopes of thousands of families who built Los Angeles and keep it prosperous--like the one I was raised in. I grew up in Pacoima, where our family patriarch retired in the 1920s. All of my relatives still live nearby, in places like Sylmar and Mission Hills. I moved only as far as Glendale.

As a lifelong "Valley guy," I am amused at the simplistic notions some folks have about my home. The conventional wisdom would have it, for example, that Boland's bill reflects the desire of a middle-class enclave to break away from L.A.'s big-city problems. In truth, the Valley has urban problems of its own, including poverty and crime. The talk of breaking away from L.A. only represents the desire of people in the Valley to have a bit more control over the public issues that affect their lives. That's an attitude people in the Valley share with virtually everyone else in town.

For the record, I'm not convinced that breaking up L.A. is going to get any of us that much further along toward solving our problems. I'd even argue that what keeps L.A. going despite riots, earthquakes, fires and floods is the fact that most people here have not yet given up on the middle-class suburban dream that the Valley epitomizes.

I am so confident that the Valley will continue to represent the best hope of L.A.'s future that I'll venture a prediction that should give Boland some satisfaction as she fumes over how Polanco apparently trumped her:

When Los Angeles again gets around to electing a Latino mayor--which will be sooner rather than later, given our rapidly changing demographics--it won't be Polanco or anyone else from the Eastside, like City Councilman Richard Alatorre or County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

It will be Richard Alarcon, who grew up in the East Valley and now represents it on the City Council. And if it's not not Alarcon, it will be someone very much like him: a Latino leader bred to the Valley's lifestyle. This will be the kind of Latino leader all L.A. likes, because he or she will understand the real Los Angeles and its quintessentially middle-class dreams.

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