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Secession Board Sees Need for Speed in Breakaway Push

September 16, 1997|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vowing that the San Fernando Valley will be a "great city," a newly formed group of civic leaders, organized as the San Fernando Valley Secession Board, vowed Monday to press ahead with plans to break away from Los Angeles.

The announcement came at a news conference outside Van Nuys City Hall.

The group includes former U.S. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler and former Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland, who brought forth the first secession measure last year.

Three homeowner leaders--Richard Close of Sherman Oaks, Harry Coleman of North Hills and Don Schultz of Van Nuys--round out the board.

Eventually, they expect to recruit several advisory panels to consult on various aspects of the effort.

"We know that the San Fernando Valley has been disenfranchised for years," Fiedler said. "We have to change that."

But even as the new group was announcing itself, a rift appeared among Valley secessionists.

Board members of an established organization that lobbied for the secession bill, Valley VOTE (Voters Organized Toward Empowerment), maintained that the new group was self-anointed, divisive and should not have formed without including them.

"We do not think this is in the best interest of the Valley and the Valley's goals," said Valley VOTE Co-Chairman Jeff Brain.

Boland, however, said that no one was being excluded from the new group.

Although Gov. Pete Wilson has not decided whether to sign legislation easing secession efforts statewide, members of the new secession board said they have to move ahead immediately if they hope to place a measure on the ballot in 2000.

"The time clock is ticking," said Close. "We need to proceed with the next step. . . . This is a mammoth task. The downtown interests do not want the San Fernando Valley to become a separate city."

Raising some $750,000 to fund the movement is the first order of business.

The group expects to quickly hire a lawyer to draft a petition that will withstand legal challenges that are expected. The target for having the petitions ready is Jan. 1. They must be signed by more than 100,000 registered Valley voters to initiate a secession study.

That starts a complex process of assessing the viability of the move for both the detaching and remaining areas. If the city can be divided without financial harm, the question would be put to a vote in Los Angeles, under the proposal on Wilson's desk.

Both the city as a whole and the detaching area must approve a secession before it could happen.

The group's strategy is to pair the secession vote with a vote to divide the gigantic Los Angeles Unified School District.

"The San Fernando Valley is in the vanguard of a paradigm shift moving away from centralized government to the individual," said Scott Wilk, executive director of FREE (Finally Restoring Excellence to Education), the school district breakup group.

Wilk is also chief of staff for Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge), who with Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) picked up Boland's secession bill this year.

The measure passed after midnight Friday, the last night of the 1997 session.

A spokesman said Gov. Wilson favors allowing Los Angeles to divide but is worried about the impact of the bill on urban areas in the rest of California. He has not decided whether to sign, veto or let the measure become law without his signature. Wilson has until Oct. 12 to make up his mind.

Members of the new secession board are confident that Wilson will sign the bill, but even if he doesn't, they vow to press on with either an initiative or a constitutional amendment to get the law changed.

"The San Fernando Valley is going to be a great city," Wilk said.

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