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Valley Perspective

On Valley Secession, Lockyer Has It Both Ways

Dropping bill could aid 'outsider' bid for state office

May 25, 1997

The kitchen, it seems, got a little too hot for Bill Lockyer. The president pro tem of the state Senate last week abruptly withdrew his version of legislation that would make it easier to split the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles. Lockyer, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area city of Hayward, said he pulled his bill because some Los Angeles legislators within his caucus objected to an outsider noodling around in local politics.

True, some Los Angeles legislators resented Lockyer's bill--notably state Sens. Diane Watson and Richard Polanco--but the sudden pullout allows Lockyer to have it both ways when he runs for state attorney general next year. He can honestly tell Valley voters that he fought to make secession easier at the same time he honestly tells voters in other parts of the city that he dropped the bill because of their concerns. Convenient.

In the last legislative session, remember, Lockyer aggressively fought to defeat a bill by former Valley Assemblywoman Paula Boland that would have allowed secession by a vote of residents within the area proposing to break away. As it stands, the City Council has veto power over any split. But in the current session, Lockyer introduced his own bill that would have removed the City Council's veto, calling instead for a citywide vote on detachments. Plus, Lockyer's bill would have required a state-sponsored study on the long-term financial and governmental impact of secession.

Earlier this month, Lockyer was working with Assemblymen Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) and Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) to reconcile their competing secession bill with his. Their bill does not require the state study but would allow existing organizations such as the Local Agency Formation Commission to examine the effects of a split. Of the two remaining secession bills pending in the Legislature, the Hertzberg-McClintock bill is the most sensible, although The Times remains unconvinced that fracturing Los Angeles would do any real long-term good.

In the end, Lockyer's departure probably will have little effect on efforts to break Los Angeles apart, particularly since the City Council has dropped its opposition to the Hertzberg-McClintock bill. Watson and Polanco plan to make the bill less palatable to their colleagues in the Senate, though, by inserting language that expands it to all municipalities statewide--not just Los Angeles. Their goal is to kill the bill, but they actually have a good point: If the Hertzberg-McClintock bill is really about self-determination rather than just splitting Los Angeles, then that principle should be applied to all cities.

Secession was never Lockyer's passion, as it appears to be with many local activists and legislators. The public-policy questions that the debate raised intrigued him. Plus, it was a good way to boost name recognition in Southern California, which is critical to a successful campaign for a statewide office such as attorney general. The one thing Lockyer brought to the debate was the one thing his critics faulted him for: He was an outsider. Since he didn't have a direct stake in the fight, Lockyer could stand back and mull the proposition of splitting Los Angeles on its merits. In a challenge this serious, perspective is critical--and all too often lacking. For that, Lockyer will be missed.

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