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Secession Bill Expected to Win Assembly Approval

Legislation: A final effort to block the measure was likely to delay vote until end of the session early today.

September 13, 1997|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The bill that would clear the path for a San Fernando Valley secession movement by putting decision-making power in the hands of voters appeared Friday to have won final legislative approval in the Assembly.

But the bill is being held up--probably until the final moments of the session as it winds down early this morning--by opponents who are mounting a last-ditch effort to overturn the vote.

If the bill survives, it goes to Gov. Pete Wilson for his signature. The governor has not taken a position on the bill, but his spokesman Friday repeated Wilson's concern about how the bill would affect cities statewide.

Wilson would have until Oct. 12 to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

The Assembly vote, taken midday, was 47-14, six votes more than the minimum needed. But 19 lawmakers did not vote.

A key foe of the measure, Assemblyman Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), immediately placed the bill "on call."

That gave him and other opponents until the close of the legislative session to lobby Assembly members who voted for the bill in an attempt to change their votes. He needs to change seven votes to defeat the bill.

Keenly aware of the bumpy history of the bill, which has survived many a crisis, the authors, Assemblymen Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), promised to leave nothing to chance.

"Anything that can happen to a bill has happened to this bill," said Hertzberg.

They spent the day working to hold their supporters, plus build more of a cushion by persuading nonvoting Assembly members to join their side.

In arguing for the bill, McClintock sought to reassure members that it would merely return state law to what it had been from 1890 to 1977, when city councils were granted the right to veto secession attempts.

He also sought to quell fears of willy-nilly secessions, which some opponents predicted, by reminding lawmakers of the complex process required before any part of a city can detach.

A detachment would not be put to a vote unless it was proved to be revenue-neutral for the seceding portion of the city, as well as that area that remained behind.

Additionally, everyone in the city gets to vote on whether secession is a good idea. "It has to be an amicable divorce," McClintock said.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Assemblyman George Runner (R-Lancaster) said, "Never, never, never be afraid of a vote of the people."

Opponents, including Murray, argued that the bill is not about democracy but about the "haves" fleeing the "have-nots."

"What this is really about is the tyranny of the majority," Murray said. "This is about jettisoning the poor part of town."

But Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park), who represents parts of East Los Angeles, said the poor in her district were not at all well-served by city government. They would probably be better off as part of a smaller city, she said.

Of Los Angeles, Martinez said, "It's dysfunctional as hell right now. It isn't working."

The Valley's first Latino state legislator, Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar), lobbied heavily for the bill and urged its passage on the floor as a way to gain attention from City Hall.

"We are already seeing changes and attention being paid to the San Fernando Valley that have been talked about for many years and now are coming to pass," he said.

If the vote on the bill holds, it would cap a two-year legislative odyssey full of twists and turns.

Last year the bill, sponsored by then-Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland, ran afoul of Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), who killed it after a battle with Boland that disintegrated into name-calling and angry outbursts.

This year Lockyer took on the issue as his own, then just when secession backers in the Valley were feeling confident of the bill's passage, he suddenly dropped his measure.

Although Lockyer said he would still support a bill if it included a citywide vote, the departure of his bill from consideration made for some anxious weeks.

But true to his word, Lockyer helped move the bill through the Senate, where it had faltered last summer.

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