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Secession Conference Examines Obstacles

October 14, 2000|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

Some residents left with more questions, and others troubled by some of the answers, after a conference on secession Friday.

A panel of experts assembled by the League of Women Voters discussed effects of the San Fernando Valley's seceding during the Skirball Cultural Center conference. Talks also covered secession movements in the Harbor and Hollywood areas.

Jim Wickser, a retired engineer from the city Department of Water and Power, said it would be a "nightmare" if the Valley attempted to physically separate itself from the current water system. It would affect piping running through the Valley and perhaps cost half a billion dollars to accomplish, he said.

"If I was 30 years younger, I'd encourage it so I'd have a lifetime job," Wickser quipped.

More realistically, the Valley could buy water from Los Angeles, contract with the DWP or create its own district without disrupting the infrastructure, said Wickser. Currently, the Valley uses about 40% of the city's water.

Keith Comrie, the retired chief administrative officer for the city of Los Angeles, questioned how the Valley could ever be an important city without its own shipping harbor or international airport.

"The Valley may be able to exist if it breaks off, but not as a world player," Comrie said, adding that the area would also have trouble getting the quick attention of the federal government during a crisis, as it did during the Northridge quake in 1994.

Joe Hegenbart of Tujunga said he had mixed feelings about Valley secession and needs more information.

"I do think a smaller entity has the ability to provide more direct service," said Hegenbart, who belongs to Water and Power Associates, an education and public service organization. "[But] the matter is far too complex and the benefits too nebulous for me to vote in favor."

Revenue from breakaway areas provides 40% of the city's annual operating budget of $4.1 billion, said Larry Calemine, executive officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission.

Should the commission give voters the go-ahead to consider the issue, the soonest it could go on the ballot is November 2002, he said.

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