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NOTOYOU: No Toys for You, No Matter What!

When children squabble, they get a timeout. When adults do it, they go to court or war. Los Angeles is heading toward the former--possibly even the latter.

August 06, 2000|XANDRA KAYDEN | Xandra Kayden is a political scientist at UCLA's School of Public Policy and Social Research

Although there are certainly arguments for and against secession, the underlying fear about it is the sense that one part of the city wants to take something that belongs to another part of the city.

It is a fear that goes both ways and is having strange repercussions in the process. San Fernando Valley leaders don't want the city to sell bonds for Playa Vista. Leaders south of the Santa Monica Mountains don't want money spent on any structures in the Valley. Even the question of recycling water--a not unimportant issue for a city built in a desert--is generating arguments about who gets the treated waste water. Whose roads get repaved, what police or fire stations get built, what parks refurbished--all are falling into the roiling waters of selfishness.

Just about everything a city does will fall prey--not to "Not in My Backyard" or NIMBYism--but something even worse. Instead, in the language of accusatory acronyms, we will have "No Toys for You" (NOTOYOU. Notoyou no matter what!

The anticipated vote on secession could be years away, depending on whether the issue will be put to Los Angeles voters before or after legal issues have been resolved. Even the basic information on which to base a vote is at least a couple of years off, pending the completion and evaluation of the study commissioned by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), the state agency charged with responsibility for such issues.

Although it is not surprising that Angelenos want to make purchasing decisions with an eye toward the future, the consequences for the near future are going from dreary to dire. Valley secession advocates--sure in the belief that they will win in the end--don't want expenditures made elsewhere. Even more significantly, they are wary of anything that might undercut their goals, such as successful neighborhood councils that might lessen the pressure for local control.

The rest of the city, not knowing whether the Valley will stay or go but comfortable with the idea that the secessionists are selfish loudmouths, is equally unwilling to give them anything because they just might split. It is not necessary to repeat the jokes going around about the recycled waste water issue, but it is just that derisive attitude that will affect the city of Los Angeles and the entire Southern California region.

Even while the appeal of smaller governing units seems to grow, we can see how much harder it will be to make bigger decisions. Example: the recent vote by the City Council of Pasadena to rescind support from the long-planned extension of the 710 Freeway. Forget that this change in Pasadena has an impact on the San Gabriel Valley and South Pasadena. Pasadena doesn't care.

A while ago, the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG), the region's transportation planning agency, called for a new freeway between Los Angeles and Ventura, and Calabasas said no. This is traditional NIMBYism, but it is hard to imagine where the single-minded, individualistic attitudes behind all this are going to stop.


When children grab at each other's toys, there is usually a parent or other wise soul around to require a timeout and offer a lecture on sharing. When adults do it, we either go to court or war. Los Angeles is certainly heading toward the former and--with a little bit of imagination--possibly toward the latter.

What's missing here is a grown-up, a leader who can point out to all sides that unless an earthquake divides us (much more than the last one did), we will be bound to the same geographic space no matter what.

The hostility, indeed, the call for secession in the first place, grew from a time when Los Angeles was living through its worst recession in history. Everywhere you went, people said: "We have no access. No one listens to us. And we aren't getting our fair share because it's all going over there!" "There" was anywhere but "here." Frankly, there just wasn't enough money to go around: Everyone was getting less.

But no one with a voice loud enough to be heard was explaining the big picture in a way that residents could--or would--hear. Mayor Richard Riordan opposes secession, but opposition by a popular mayor doesn't seem to wash among those who believe they've set a boulder rolling down the cliff that will cleave the city in half no matter what.

We are inexorably moving toward a new mayor and a new era in Los Angeles. The mayoral candidates are developing their visions for the city. Somewhere along the line, both the candidates and the rest of us need to take a deep breath and consider what it takes to sustain a viable city--whether as one, two or three entities--recognizing that the needs are as varied as resources required to meet them.


As political scientist Robert Putnam notes in his book, "Bowling Alone," a generous society is more efficient than a distrustful society because if we "don't have to balance every exchange instantly, we can get a lot more accomplished."

There is a certain generosity of spirit lacking in Los Angeles today for which we are all responsible. If those proposing to lead us could bring us toward greater understanding, compassion and generosity, we would all be better off.

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