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Jeff Brain

A Secession Movement Leader Talks About the Plan for a New Valley City

May 07, 2000|BOB RECTOR | Bob Rector is opinion page editor for the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County editions

Activists seeking to split off the San Fernando Valley from the rest of Los Angeles have released a conceptual plan of what their new city would be like, a preliminary look at what would be the nation's sixth-largest municipality.

The plan, as put forth by Valley VOTE, portrays a city with greater local control, better services, lower taxes, safe and clean neighborhoods and a "business-friendly environment that is also accountable, accessible and responsive," according to an assessment by Tom Hogen-Esch, a doctoral candidate in political science at USC.

The plan calls for use of existing city facilities and employees until a new government could make permanent changes.

The goal is to "make a Camelot out of it," said Jeff Brain, president of Valley VOTE.

But the plan also counts on the Valley city keeping a share of such major assets as the harbor, the airports and the Department of Water and Power, a proposal that has drawn some criticism.

The Times recently talked with Brain about the vision for a new city and the group's efforts to accomplish its goals.

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Question: In putting together a blueprint for a new city, what were the building blocks that were most important to you?

Answer: We know what people want in the Valley, and that is greater local control; they want more of a say in what occurs in their neighborhoods, they want a government that is more responsive to their needs and is accountable to their vote. Last year, the Valley got the dump (Sunshine Canyon Landfill) in Granada Hills, and Valley voters have no ability to hold accountable those who voted for it.

Q: Did the Sunshine Canyon decision add momentum to your movement?

A: I have often said that the City Council, on a day-to-day basis, does much more to promote secession than anything I could do.

Q: The plan calls for an independent police department. Are you unhappy with the job the LAPD has done in the Valley?

A: In fact, we are happy with the LAPD. We have our own divisions in the Valley, we have our own stations, we have relationships with the officers as well as the administrators in the Valley. We feel that a city the size that the Valley would be would be best suited to having its own police force. What would occur is that these police officers would come to work for the Valley.

Q: How would that work?

A: The remaining city of Los Angeles couldn't sustain the current staffing levels of LAPD by itself. So LAFCO [the Local Agency Formation Commission], through a process of volunteering, would determine which officers could remain here.

Q: What about sharing the city's major assets. What is the thinking there?

A: We took the approach that the residents of Los Angeles are shareholders in all the assets, the liabilities, the expenses. And so the Valley is entitled to its prorated share for all those items.

Q: Your plan also calls for a part-time city council. Why was that stipulated?

A: Many of the people involved in Valley VOTE feel strongly about certain changes that should take place. They also feel that they would like more of a frugal government. But in the final draft, we dropped that part-time term. We will leave that decision to further dialogue because it's an issue that has attracted discussion. So at the current time it's no longer in the document. This is early in the process, and as we go through public comment, we will look at this issue more closely.

But let me say this. Here's how it works right now, with the City Council. If you, a resident, are dissatisfied, you will call to a number and you will get shifted from one extension to another and another until you get frustrated. So you call your council office. Now, the council office will respond. Some people have an easier time getting the attention of the council office than others. If you're a head of a homeowner association, you can typically get more response, or if you contributed to their election campaigns. That's not necessarily how it should work. Out in the world, you don't have customers at McDonald's calling the board of directors when they have a problem with their hamburger. What they do is they call customer service.

What we would prefer is to see a customer service department for the city of the Valley, so that people don't feel they have to call their councilperson or look to what kind of relationship they have with them or how much money they gave to see what kind of service they're going to get. You should be able to call one number to a customer service department that is an advocate for the residents and will follow up to make sure that what needs to get done gets done. Those are the kinds of innovations we're proposing.

Q: So that will be part of the final blueprint for the city?

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