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A Matter of Heart and Improving Quality of Life

April 08, 2001|RICHARD KATZ | Richard Katz, a former Democratic assemblyman from the San Fernando Valley, is a board member of Valley VOTE

The greatness of any city is measured not in its size or its shape but in its heart. It is rooted in people's enduring desire to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods, their communities, their home.

That's what is driving a campaign for self-determination in the San Fernando Valley, which reached a critical juncture recently with an analysis that shows Valley neighborhoods are being shortchanged in services by the city of Los Angeles, and that forming a new Valley city is fiscally viable.

There still are political hurdles ahead, including naysayers from over the hill who only pay lip service to helping improve our quality of life.

Mayor Richard Riordan, for example, criticized Valley cityhood proponents as "downright immoral" and accused us of trying to "abandon the poor people of the city." The mayor then went home to Brentwood, where the word apparently has not yet arrived that the Valley is not the isolated enclave he thinks it is.

As last week's census report clearly indicates, the Valley is every bit as diverse economically, culturally and ethnically as the rest of the city. The people of the Valley are not going anywhere and are not abandoning anyone. We're staying right where we are and taking responsibility for improving our neighborhoods and our quality of life. Rich and poor, all ethnicities, we are organizing together to ensure our success.


Valley residents dream of a city in which their voices and their votes count; where their taxes are spent to protect their neighborhoods, fill their potholes, trim their trees and make parks clean and safe for their children to play in. We dream of a city that doesn't stall for 12 years in implementing voter approval of a new police station in the northeast Valley.

We're tired of feeling cheated, frustrated, ignored and dismissed by the downtown power brokers, who siphon off our tax money and deny us a fair share of services even as our neighborhoods deteriorate. The Local Agency Formation Commission study confirmed that Valley residents pay more in taxes than they receive in services (a deficit of $700 million in 10 years). It confirmed that less than 25% of the sworn and civilian positions in the Los Angeles Police Department are based in the Valley. And only 18% of the city's disaster preparedness budget is spent in the Valley.

The LAFCO study also confirmed that a Valley city is economically viable, giving hope that Los Angeles and its 3.6 million people spread across 462 square miles might be effectively reorganized into smaller and more manageable cities.


The yearning for a better way of life is not confined to the Valley. Across Los Angeles, people are expressing a desire for more control over what happens in their neighborhoods. People want a strong voice in local zoning and land-use decisions. They want control over their lives and their communities.

Today, each member of the City Council represents more than 250,000 people. In a new Valley city, the ratio would be one council member per 100,000 people, and every resident of Los Angeles, whether in the Valley or not, would have a better representation ratio.

So what's next? Over the next 45 days, Valley VOTE will review the LAFCO report and submit comments in response. Your participation in this process is important; every resident of the Valley should have a voice in the process.

Once the public response period is over, LAFCO will issue a final report and the question of Valley cityhood would be put to voters on the November 2002 ballot. Each of the major candidates for mayor has agreed to support placing the question on the ballot. They may not support the reorganization itself, but they agree with Valley VOTE that the people of the city, not politicians or the bureaucrats, should make this important decision.

This could be the most meaningful vote in Los Angeles on government reform in the modern era. In the end, it's not about jagged lines on a map or whether our mailing address is "Los Angeles" or something else. It's about our city's heart and ensuring that, no matter the name, we feel good about calling it home.

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