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Richard Close

Secession Advocate Has Reason to Be Optimistic About Cityhood for the Valley

July 18, 1999|BOB RECTOR | Bob Rector is opinion editor of the Valley and Ventura County editions of The Times

A year ago, volunteers and paid petition gatherers were fanning out across the San Fernando Valley in an attempt to collect 200,000 signatures that would trigger a study to see if Valley cityhood is viable.

At that time, there was concern about getting enough signers, and worries that even if the signatures were gathered, money to pay for the study could be in short supply.

Those were uncertain times for Valley VOTE, the organization behind the effort to secure a secession study.

Today, the signatures have been gathered and verified, financing has been all but secured, and Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close exudes confidence. He is personally four-square behind secession, believes it can be a "revenue neutral" separation, thinks it can be on the ballot by 2002 and predicts it will pass.

The Times recently talked to Close about the cityhood movement, how it was affected by charter reform and how he views its future.

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Question: Charter reform struck a responsive chord with the voters. Were you surprised it passed by such a large margin?

Answer: I left on vacation the day of the election and the collective wisdom at the time was that it was probably going to fail. Then I went online in Copenhagen and saw that it won [with] 60% [of the vote]. I was very surprised.

I thought it was going to lose because it didn't offer that much. There just wasn't the sizzle, the appeal to it. There were issues being raised about costs. So I thought it was compromised.

It was better than what we had. That's why I supported it. But I didn't really see a strong appeal that would overcome the issues and questions being raised. To see it pass [with] 60% was shocking. I think the reason is that people want change. This may not have been as much change as they would like. But they want change. I think it signifies the growing frustration with city government, both in the Valley and outside.


Q. So you think its passage validates Valley VOTE's efforts?

A. Yes. One of the reasons charter reform even started was because of the Valley cityhood efforts. And the charter discussion reinforced that there was a problem that needs to be solved. I mean if there's no problem, then we don't need charter reform, we don't need cityhood. But there are problems.


Q. Will charter reform be all that was promised? Do you think council members will be responsive in implementing it?

A. I think that implementation will be slow and disappointing. The key is in the details of the implementation. When most of the City Council members were opposed to the charter, one would suspect, rightly so in my opinion, that the implementation will be nonexistent in many cases. This will lead to greater frustration and will further propel the issue of cityhood.


Q. What about the neighborhood council concept? That was one of the more popular aspects of charter reform.

A. I think there's also going to be a problem with that because, first of all, you have the issue of how quickly they're going to move ahead.

Number two, you have the issue of what authority they will have. No City Council member wants to be a pawn or a puppet of a neighborhood council. Most of them believe they were elected because they know what's best for the community, and they want to retain their power to make the decisions rather than delegating that power to a neighborhood council.

So what's going to happen, I believe, is that either we're going to have council people who do not follow the recommendations of their neighborhood councils, thereby creating more frustration, or we will have what we probably should have, which are neighborhood councils with some authority.

However, we have to look at the composition of who's going to be on the councils. They could be controlled by people who do not live in the area and who will be imposing decisions on the communities that are adverse. Then, you're going to find even more frustration. For instance, you have businesspeople who live outside the area. So you can have people who live in San Marino deciding what should be built in Sherman Oaks. These people then go home at night and the problems that may be created are left with the local residents to deal with.


Q. Moving on to the LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) study, the sniping has already begun over the exchange of information. And the city has criticized you for wanting to delay talk about dividing up major agencies such as the Department of Water and Power until after a secession vote.

A. My belief is that the city is telling LAFCO, "We're only going to give you what's readily available and in its existing format. We're not going to do anything to assist in the preparation of this report." Which to me is a form of stonewalling by the city.

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