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Proposal Could Lead to Breakup of L.A. County

Services: Lancaster assemblyman introduces a bill that would create an agency to study how effectively people are served.

March 22, 1997|GREG SANDOVAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA CLARITA — Suggesting that Los Angeles County may be a little too fat and slow to adequately provide services to its almost 10 million people, a local assemblyman has introduced a bill that could eventually lead to breaking up the county into smaller ones.

"The population [of Los Angeles County] is larger than 42 states," said Assemblyman George Runner Jr. (R-Lancaster), who was flanked by the mayors of Santa Clarita and Lancaster at Santa Clarita City Hall. "There are 30 members of the U.S. Senate elected from smaller populations than a county supervisor. Can that truly be defined as good local government?"

Runner, at a news conference Friday, said his bill would allow the creation of a local agency that would evaluate how effectively the county is providing services to its cities and how well it is spending their tax dollars.

If the study, expected to take four years and cost $1 million, proves that certain jurisdictions could do a better job on their own, the agency would split the county into two or more smaller parts, Runner said.

He argued--in much the same way that proponents for breakups of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District have in recent months--that the county is too cumbersome to meet the needs of many of its cities.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, in a telephone interview, defended the services that the county has provided and countered Runner's thesis by saying good government doesn't necessarily mean more of it.

"It comes down to the commitment of the office holders," Antonovich said. "California has a governor that represents over 30 million people and Delaware's governor represents less than a million. Do we need another governor?"

The bill, AB 303, is but the latest call to break up a large municipal government involving Los Angeles.

Various proposals to partition the LAUSD have been put forward in recent years, and this year legislation that would make it easier for the San Fernando Valley to secede from Los Angeles is making headway in the Legislature.

"This is different than just a secessionist movement," he said, distancing his legislation from the other efforts. "This is a service evaluation. I don't think anyone is afraid of a service evaluation." He added that the bill was not an attack on any county agency or employee.

It might turn out that cities are better off staying within the county, according to Clyde Smyth and Frank Roberts, mayors of Santa Clarita and Lancaster, respectively. They said that their cities were clearly well-served in many areas. They singled out the county's sheriff's and fire department as examples.

"There is some clout when you're part of a county with 9.3 million people," Roberts said. "There is a certain name recognition being part of Los Angeles County."

But Roberts and Smyth endorsed Runner's bill, saying the county needs to improve some services. Smyth said he was concerned with not having any say when the Board of Supervisors approved large building projects for parts of the county just outside Santa Clarita's city limits. Roberts said he wondered if the court services provided by the county were top drawer.

But Smyth warned that it was too premature to start picking out names for new counties and said that many of the problems the study might turn up may be solved between the county and individual cities.

"This bill is not going to be a stake driven into the heart of the county," he said.

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