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Senators Renew Drive to Stop Secession Bill

Breakup: Two L.A. Democrats lead an effort to keep the Valley from seceding. They may amend pending bills to apply statewide.

May 21, 1997|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that state Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer has removed himself as a player, Los Angeles lawmakers opposed to breaking up the city are renewing efforts to thwart Valley secession bills in the state Senate.

The campaign is being led by two Democrats, state Sens. Diane Watson and Richard Polanco, both of whom have never wavered from their belief that legislation that could lead to a divided city must be blocked.

Watson said Tuesday she is meeting with others in the local delegation to map out a strategy. One approach under consideration is to amend pending secession bills so they would apply statewide, not just to Los Angeles.

Current law, which gives City Councils veto power over secession applications, applies throughout California.

Most proponents of the Valley secession bills oppose statewide application because it would make the legislation more difficult to pass. Lawmakers representing other urban areas are expected to view the bills as a threat to their own cities--and their own political futures--rather than a reflection of a squabble in a city in which they have no personal stake.

Watson said unity among Los Angeles senators was needed to fight the legislation.

"If the Los Angeles delegation will hang together, we can defeat it," Watson said.

But as she readily concedes, some local senators--Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) and Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles)--supported Valley secession legislation last year.

The Watson-Polanco position against changing the law has been overshadowed in recent months by Lockyer's vigorous involvement in the issue. Saying the council veto could not be justified, Lockyer introduced his own bill and promised to throw his considerable power behind changing the law.

Lockyer, a Hayward Democrat, dropped out of the fray after meeting Monday with senators from the Los Angeles area who pressed him to get out of an issue some of them consider none of his business.

With Lockyer's bill dormant, that leaves a secession-aiding measure co-sponsored by Assemblymen Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), which has passed the Assembly and awaits Senate action.

A third bill is pending in the Assembly.

Though Lockyer could have delivered the Senate votes for his own bill, his flight from the issue leaves McClintock and Hertzberg on their own.

Both predict passage--if Lockyer keeps his promise not to work against them.

Lockyer said Tuesday that he had not yet decided whether to vote for the McClintock-Hertzberg bill because it lacked a requirement for a state-funded study of the impacts of secession on Los Angeles.

In Lockyer's view, the study would offer secession foes critical protection against rash action by the voters and critical information for Valley residents contemplating whether it makes sense to divorce Los Angeles.

The first juncture for derailing the Assembly bill is in the Senate Local Government Committee, which has been hospitable to every secession bill it has heard, starting with former Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland's failed measure last year.

The Lockyer bill sailed through the committee in March, with only Watson in opposition.

One of those who voted for the Lockyer bill was Whittier Sen. Charles Calderon, a Democrat who has argued in the past that the change in the law should apply statewide.

"That's the better policy," Calderon said Tuesday.

Still, Calderon said he is inclined to vote for the secession bill as is.

But "if the bill gets in trouble, having it apply statewide may save it," Calderon said.

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