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Hearty 'So What?' Greets Secession Bill's Demise

Politics: Many identify with L.A., some yearn for better services, and most acknowledge they haven't followed the issue.

August 25, 1996|JILL LEOVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The politicians railed about self-determination, and swore they'd keep on fighting.

But on the streets of the San Fernando Valley on Saturday, few residents interviewed seemed too upset about the failure of a bill that would have made it possible to secede from the city of Los Angeles.

"I love L.A.," said Jason Banks, a 32-year-old Reseda travel agent. "I'd fight for L.A. I've been a Dodgers fan all my life, and a Lakers fan."

In fact, far from feeling slighted, many people interviewed in Valley malls, streets and parks on Saturday took the opposite stance: They expressed loyalty to L.A in strong terms, and even viewed secession as a threat to unity in a strife-torn city.

"Instead of people dividing themselves, they should get together and work things out," said 27-year-old Mark Cisco, a baseball instructor and telemarketer from Northridge, playing softball at the Winnetka Recreation Center park.

"People see problems and they don't want to be a part of it," Cisco said. "But there will be no safe place unless we work together."

"The problems of the central city are all of our problems. We can't run away from it any more," said Linda Gary, president of a Woodland Hills real estate firm.

Supporters of a bill that would have made secession an option for Valley voters by eliminating the Los Angeles City Council's veto over breakaway petitions argued that the Valley doesn't get its fair share of city tax revenues and services. The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills), died in the state Senate on Thursday.

Its backers have vowed to carry on their quest.

Their concern about inadequate city services resonated strongly among those interviewed Saturday. But the notion of separation from L.A. also clearly hit a nerve.

Several people alluded to differences in ethnic composition and parts of the Valley, and wondered whether racial tensions played a part in the secession drive.

What the city really needs "is something that would force us all to get along," said Robert Ruffin, 42, a mental health worker in Canoga Park. "What difference would it [secession] make?"

People such as Ned Skaff, 69, of Van Nuys, a retired radio broadcaster, still identify with the sprawling city.

"Saying 'I'm from L.A.' is better than saying 'I'm from Sepulveda,' " said Skaff, who was shopping at Northridge Fashion Center. "What were they going to call it anyway?"

Those who supported the measure tended to talk about specific city services rather than broader issues of identity or social division. Schools were a top concern. So were police, recreational programs and street maintenance.

"I think [secession] is a good idea, I really do," said Dave Owen, 39, a television engineer from Van Nuys.

An area as big and wide as the Valley needs more police, Owen said. Threatening secession might be a good way of "scaring the city enough" to provide them.

In Van Nuys, he said, "there are some good pockets, but there is lots of crime and gangs. You see homelessness, people hanging out at 7-Eleven. . . . The older people in our neighborhood . . . have bars on their windows."

Jose Aguilar, 38, of Reseda, said he moved from South-Central to the Valley 10 years ago because he'd become entangled with gangs and addicted to drugs. It worked, he said. Now, he'd like to see the Valley escape too.

"If we had our own city, we will have our own say. It means more power to choose. We change our parks and our schools," said Aguilar, an account manager for a convalescent home.

"Sherman Way went from being OK to being scary. I don't even like to drive through it now," said Eric Niece of Canoga Park when asked why he supports Valley secession.

The 26-year-old, a recent graduate of Cal State Northridge in real estate finance, said he thinks an independent Valley would have more money for police and street improvements.

But sitting on the bleachers next to him, his mother, Delores Niece, 52, disagreed. Nothing can help the Valley now, she said. "It's gone downhill. I'd just like to get out."

Keith Phillips, owner of Valley's Best auto repair in Canoga Park, said the city required too many permits and licenses.

"It seems like they are doing more to discourage business on this side of the West Valley than to help it," Phillips said. "I'd just like to move my operation to Westlake or Thousand Oaks."

Even supporters were not mourning the bill's failure much.

Few of the people interviewed said they had followed the issue closely. A significant number of those asked weren't aware of its existence.

Those who knew most were often the most ambivalent. Gary, the real estate executive, said she supported Boland's bill but thinks secession will ultimately prove impractical.

No one has spelled out the benefits and drawbacks, said Bruce Needleman, 35, a Chatsworth lawyer, shopping at Northridge Fashion Center with his wife and baby son.

The only thing that's sure, his wife, Brenda, broke in, is that secession "would make those politicians bigger fish."

"L.A.'s so big," she said, "they kind of get lost."

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