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How Would Secession Affect Us?

March 22, 1998

The movement to split the San Fernando Valley from the nation's second-largest city released poll results last week showing strong support for transforming the sprawling suburb into the sixth-largest city in the country. Some people, however, questioned the significance of the findings.

KARIMA A. HAYNES spoke with a community leader and a political scientist about the poll and the impact secession would have on the Valley and Los Angeles as a whole.

IRENE TOVARExecutive Director, Latin American Civic Assn., a San Fernando-based nonprofit organization serving the northeast Valley

I have to challenge the poll results. Who was their pool? What type of questions did they ask? What was the geographic representation? I don't understand how poor people in this section of the Valley could say, "Tax me more--when I am barely making it." Higher taxes are needed to establish services in a new city. When you are creating a new city you have to develop a public services delivery system: police, social services, water. Why would we tax ourselves again to establish the services that are already in existence now? Proponents of secession say they are taxed higher than other city residents. Why would you be willing to tax yourselves again?

Would secession benefit people with fewer resources? People are in denial that there is poverty in the Valley. I have only heard the concerns of the high-income people. I am open to seeing a group of the poor or working-class people arguing for secession.

How will secession impact affordable housing in the Valley? Will the new city be able to create affordable housing? That is a very serious problem here.

There are employment issues. What industries will we see coming into the Valley? Will they be located in the northeast Valley, making it an industrial area where there would be potential environmental hazards?

Latino representation is another issue. Let's say we become a new city that is divided into council districts. The council person from this area would likely be a minority, but he or she will not have the political clout to improve the quality of life for the people in the district. I am skeptical when they throw up this thing of political empowerment; that in itself is not going to move me toward secession. There has to be a much more sophisticated analysis.

Secession is not simple; it is a complex process. We need to systematically, not politically, talk about what it takes to create a new city.

MATTHEW CAHN

Director, Center for California Studies and associate professor of political science, Cal State Northridge

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The poll results are not very surprising, they are extremely surprising. We know that most people aren't really thinking about secession, and having a formed opinion would be unlikely. As a social scientist, I know people typically don't have a ready opinion but will formulate one on the spot. That's why the wording of the questions is extremely important. When people respond to survey questions, they may be superimposing other concerns. A concern about a lack of representation on the City Council may manifest as support for secession, even when [respondents] don't know what it means as an issue or a political reality. As a consequence, I wouldn't be too comfortable with the data.

The move toward secession has a long history among some who feel an abandonment by the central city. It is not clear to me or to others whether the Valley is getting more ignored than any other part of the city. If you are in South-Central, East L.A. or the Westside, there are those who are feeling the same thing. There is a lot of alienation when you have a city the size of L.A.; that is not that shocking.

Although we don't know all that [secession] would mean, there are things we do know. The city of the Valley would consist of about 1.5 million people and would be the sixth-largest city in the nation. Secession would mean not just decentralization but carving a large city from a huge city.

Infrastructure is another issue. Who is going to pay for the water in the new city? Who is going to control the water that comes from the Owens Valley through the [San Fernando] Valley to the city? When the water infrastructure gets analyzed, you see that it impacts the Valley and the city as well. Who is going to own the police and fire departments? Are they going to contract with the city, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department or start for their own departments? The issue is: Who owns the city? This is why secession is more complicated than simple incorporation.

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