At a time when cappuccino was still exotic, avocado was a desirable color and ranch-style homes were sprouting up throughout the San Fernando Valley, a handful of greenhorn political activists huddled in a restaurant on Ventura Boulevard to hatch a plot against the city of Los Angeles.
Their mission: uncoupling the Valley from Los Angeles to form a separate, independent city. The year: 1975.
The Valley uprising was short-lived, crushed by the state Legislature at the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and other big-city heavyweights in California.
But key participants in the drive have become some of the Valley's most influential citizens, and two of them now sit on the state authority that may decide whether Valley secession is possible. Both say that despite their earlier backing of a breakaway, they are now neutral on the issue.
Led in part by Hal Bernson, then owner of a jeans store at Northridge Fashion Square, the rebel suburbanites included an insurance salesman, a real estate agent, a lawyer and a car dealer. Together they formed CIVICC--the Committee Investigating Valley Independent City / County.
Most were rising stars within local business associations, a spawning ground for Valley politicians in the '70s. Many subsequently became apostles of the anti-busing and Proposition 13 movements.
Despite its demise in 1978, CIVICC's campaign revealed and inflamed Valley residents' sense that they were being slighted and ignored by the city of Los Angeles. That disenchantment recently reemerged in a new Valley secession effort led by Valley VOTE, a group of business leaders and homeowner associations.
"Here we are almost 25 years later, and the feeling of resentment still exists," said Larry Calemine, a CIVICC founder who helped develop Warner Center and Porter Ranch. He said the failed '70s effort nonetheless paid dividends for the Valley in the form of better police and fire protection and greater representation on city commissions.
CIVICC, for the first time, put the city's alleged shortcomings on paper, commissioning a study that concluded that Valley taxpayers were being shortchanged when it came to receiving city services, said Bernson, whom Valley residents elected to the City Council in 1979 and have kept there ever since.
"People didn't forget," he said.
Along with Bernson and Calemine, CIVICC's old roster reads like a who's who of the Valley's influential civic leaders: Herbert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Ford and a city police commissioner; Paula Boland of Granada Hills, former Republican state legislator and member of the city's elected charter reform commission; and Bobbi Fiedler, former Republican congresswoman and school board member from Northridge, who led the Valley's anti-busing movement in the '70s.
Today they find themselves hip deep in the current secession debate.
Boland, a real estate agent when she joined CIVICC in 1975, was elected to the Assembly in 1990 and kicked off the modern secession movement. Her legislation to make Valley independence easier failed. But after she left office, a compromise version of her bill passed, giving life to Valley VOTE's ongoing petition drive for possible secession.
Calemine and Bernson are members of the state's Local Agency Formation Commission, which may ultimately decide whether Valley secession is possible. Bernson is a commissioner, representing the city of Los Angeles, and Calemine is executive director.
If Valley VOTE collects 135,000 signatures by Aug. 27, the state agency will be required to conduct a study on the possible impact of a split. It would then decide whether to put secession on the ballot for a citywide vote.
On the flip side is Boeckmann, one of Southern California's most successful auto dealers and a close political ally of Mayor Richard Riordan, who appointed Boeckmann to the city Police Commission. Boeckmann is one of Valley VOTE's biggest financial backers. He donated $10,000 to the group and launched a fund-raiser that brought in $150,000 more. This despite Riordan's staunch opposition to Valley secession.
Both Bernson and Calemine say their roles on the state agency demand that they stay neutral in the secession debate.
"I am now in a position like a judge," Bernson said. "What I feel in my heart is one thing. But I have to act accordingly and responsibly for the position that I hold."
Calemine, who has no vote on the commission, said he is neither for nor against secession: "I'm not going to know how I feel until the application is dumped on my doorstep and we study the issue."
Another CIVICC veteran and current secession proponent becomes almost giddy when he looks over today's political landscape.
"They're in place. You notice that?" said George Koutsoubas, a Northridge insurance executive who was CIVICC's executive vice chairman. "The people who can make it happen are now in place."