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Senate OKs Valley Secession Vote

Legislation: Bill, which must be approved by Assembly and governor, would remove veto power of city councils on issue. Both L.A. and San Fernando area would have to approve separation.

September 09, 1997|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — A bill that would allow the San Fernando Valley and the city of Los Angeles to vote on secession was approved Monday by the state Senate, moving the legislation one step away from Gov. Pete Wilson.

It must return to the Assembly, which earlier overwhelmingly approved the bill, for concurrence in amendments. An Assembly vote could occur as early as today. The measure would then go to the governor, who would have 30 days to make a decision on the bill.

Gov. Pete Wilson has not taken a position on the legislation, which removes the veto power of city councils throughout the state over secession requests.

But a spokesman said Wilson has "concerns" about the bill's scope, which was amended to include all of California. Originally, the bill applied just to Los Angeles.

"We feel Los Angeles is unique and massive and deserves its own special attention," said Wilson spokesman Sean Walsh.

But proponents of the legislation say they are confident of the governor's support and intend to invite him to sign the bill into law at a celebration in the Valley.

The bill (AB 62) would not initiate secession. That step must be taken by voters, after a petition drive to get it on the ballot. And although the bill would eliminate council vetoes--a virtually insurmountable obstacle to municipal divorce--secession would remain no easy task, but a lengthy, laborious process.

Under the measure, secession would have to be approved by a majority of voters in the entire city, as well as a majority of voters in the area seeking to detach and incorporate.

In addition, a complex process would remain in place to determine how to divide assets and debts, to ensure that both areas would remain economically viable.

Supporters of the bill rejoiced at Monday's vote, while critics said it would lead to a divided Los Angeles.

"What a day of rejoicing it will be when this bill is signed," said former Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland, who first raised the issue of changing the law last year before her bill was defeated. "It's a whole new era."

But Sen. Richard G. Polanco (D-Los Angeles) said that although supporters of the measure were using the word "democracy," it was all a smoke screen.

"It is very clear to me this is an attempt not to introduce democracy . . . but to break up the city of Los Angeles," Polanco said.

The secession bill this year was a bipartisan effort by Assemblymen Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), who stood at the back of the Senate chambers as the vote was tallied.

Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) carried the bill in the Senate, urging his colleagues not "to reject a fair and democratic process because we fear the voters' judgment."

The Senate passed the bill 23 to 5, with some of the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans joining in support.

Voting against it were five Democratic senators: Polanco, Teresa Hughes of Inglewood, Hilda Solis of El Monte, John Burton of San Francisco and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

Twelve senators did not cast votes.

Passage by the state Senate is viewed as a major step forward and a cause for rejoicing among secession proponents.

"Not only is this a great day for the San Fernando Valley and direct democracy," Hertzberg said, "it is a great lesson in bipartisanship."

Last year at this time, Boland's bill was defeated in the Senate after a fiery, rancorous debate that included charges that the measure was a divisive move by suburbanites to abandon poor minorities in the central city.

Proponents fought that characterization by using census statistics that show the Valley had more than a 40% minority population in 1990.

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Backers of the bill also appealed to Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), who battled with Boland last year and engineered the bill's defeat amid Boland's election-year battle for a state Senate seat.

With backing from Lockyer, her Democratic opponent, Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), was elected. Now Boland is on the City Charter reform commission in Los Angeles.

Although the bill's course this year has sometimes been rocky, Monday's debate in the Senate was low-key, perhaps because opponents knew they were defeated.

That is in no small part because of Lockyer, who not only supported the measure after it was amended to his liking, but kept it from harm's way during its bumpy road through the Legislature.

"Four people were responsible for today--Boland, McClintock, Hertzberg and Lockyer," said Richard Close, a Valley homeowner association leader who is co-chairman of a group formed to lobby for the legislation.

In an interview after the vote, McClintock paid homage to Boland for laying the groundwork for the bill's success thus far this year.

"Paula Boland blazed the trail with this issue last session," McClintock said. "That set the stage for this year."

If the Assembly, which originally passed the measure 74 to 1, concurs with the Senate version and the governor signs the bill, Close said his group, Valley VOTE, intends to go the next step by gathering signatures needed to start the secession process in the Valley--105,000 signatures.

If a sufficient number of signatures are gathered, it would trigger a state-funded study of the secession's impacts.

"In 1915, the Valley joined with the city in order to get water," Close said.

"That's no longer the issue. Maybe we need to go our own way."

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