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NEWS ANALYSIS

Secession Feud Won't Die With Boland Bill

Politics: Valley breakaway backers will push on with their effort, but so will foes who led defeat of legislation.

August 24, 1996|HENRY CHU and CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A bill to ease a San Fernando Valley withdrawal from Los Angeles may have gone down in defeat Thursday, but the energy behind the secession drive will no doubt remain.

And, make no mistake, so will the movement's enemies.

That is the daunting political reality confronting Valley secession backers as they geared up Friday to continue their fight for more leverage in Los Angeles, even at the price of divorcing the city altogether.

In several respects, they can count on major assets in their quest for greater, if not complete, autonomy: lawmakers in Sacramento to carry on their cause, increased political confidence, redoubled vigor for a parallel effort to rewrite the city's 71-year-old charter and a general trend across the nation urging smaller government.

But steadfast against them will be the same powerful opponents who Thursday successfully spiked Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland's measure to remove almost insurmountable obstacles to splitting up the city.

The bill by Boland (R-Granada Hills), which would have removed the Los Angeles City Council's veto over breakaway petitions, sailed through the GOP-controlled lower house--but then ran aground in the state Senate, where the Democratic leadership exercises tight control over its slim majority.

Secession supporters vowed to press on in Sacramento by finding new legislative sponsors. But to their dismay, even GOP strategists privately concede that their party will not be able to topple the Democratic Senate majority in the November election, leaving in place President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), the man largely responsible for ensuring the Boland measure's death.

"Unfortunately, it has been so heavily politicized," Lockyer said of the bill during floor debate Thursday. "Some on both sides have been so inflexible that I fear the better policy will escape us for this year.

"That doesn't mean that the problem will go away," he added.

Indeed, Boland herself, who must leave the Assembly because of term limits, pledged to resurrect her proposal if elected to the upper chamber this fall from a district predominantly outside Los Angeles. "I've never turned my back on a commitment," said Boland, who was accused of introducing her bill as an election-year publicity stunt to aid her campaign to succeed state Sen. Newton Russell (R-Glendale).

But the Democrats have made Russell's seat a prime target, threatening a bitter duel between Boland and the Democrats' well-funded candidate, Adam Schiff, in a district whose changing demographics have made it vulnerable for the GOP.

"We think we've got a damned good shot at the Russell seat. It'll be the first time in 25 years that we've had a good opportunity," said an election tactician close to Lockyer.

And Lockyer has promised to block any Boland-type secession bill unless it includes changes he wants but which supporters contend will effectively gut the measure. His amendments would include a state-funded study of detachment and incorporation law that could take two years.

Boland has hinted that she may be open to compromise on the question of who would vote on a secession--whether all voters in Los Angeles, as Lockyer wants, or just those in the Valley--but remains adamant on stripping the City Council of its veto authority.

Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), one of the few Senate Democrats to support her bill, called on Boland to accept a citywide vote.

"It would be a tragedy for me if this just stopped," said Hayden, who announced Friday that he would try to find some vehicle for reintroducing the Boland bill--with Lockyer's provisos attached--before the imminent end of the current session.

"One little amendment might move a large number of votes on the Senate floor," agreed Paul Clarke, a Northridge political consultant. "But it becomes dangerous to do it in this case" because the changes could effectively neuter Boland's original intent.

And with Lockyer expected to remain in power, "there's a certain [sense] that once you've fought the good fight and have been unsuccessful, it's like beating your head against a wall" to keep trying, Clarke said.

Failing Boland's elevation to the Senate, secession supporters would be able to look to her probable successor in the lower house, former Republican Assemblyman Tom McClintock, as their standard-bearer in the next legislative session.

McClintock said that if elected, he would try to expand the scope of Boland's effort to make it easier for communities across the state, not just in Los Angeles, to decide their civic fates. That could sway more Democrats, pressured by their constituents, to favor the proposal, just as some Valley Democrats in the Senate bucked the party leadership to side with Boland.

"It's part of the package of reforms that I would like to pursue on devolution--returning as much authority to local governments as possible," McClintock said, echoing growing national sentiment for smaller, more accessible government.

Locally, apart from pressing again for secession-easing legislation, Valley boosters say Thursday's setback will add fuel to the effort to rewrite the city charter based directly on public input, without interference from the City Council.

Already, the threat of secession has granted Valley activists more political muscle in City Hall and prompted the council and the mayor's office to take their complaints more seriously and focus on charter reform.

"There's no stopping that effort. . . . If one's off the table, the other one is still there to keep the issue [of Valley autonomy] alive," said Robert L. Scott, an attorney who is one of the leaders of the breakaway campaign.

"I don't think this is the kind of thing that will go away. I don't think there will be a lull in activity. There may be a shift of focus," he added, but the movement will continue.

Times staff writer Nancy Hill-Holtzman contributed to this story.

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