City officials and proponents of San Fernando Valley secession reached tentative agreement Monday on a plan to divide parks, libraries and other assets if voters split Los Angeles apart.
The plan would enable the new Valley city to acquire all municipal property within its boundaries without payment to Los Angeles, meeting a key demand of secessionists. But under the conditions attached, it could be years--perhaps decades--before Los Angeles would transfer much of the property.
The preliminary deal is an important breakthrough in the quest for agreement between City Hall and secessionists on a breakup proposal to put on the November 2002 ballot. In two months of negotiations, the most bitter dispute has been over assets.
Among them are police stations, firehouses, office buildings, helicopters, street sweepers and garbage trucks.
The Local Agency Formation Commission for Los Angeles County is drafting the ballot measure but hopes the two sides will agree to most of the terms. The idea is to minimize the threat of a court challenge to the measure.
At the bargaining table on Monday, secessionists pressed their case for LAFCO to force Los Angeles to give assets to the new Valley city upon incorporation.
But LAFCO Executive Officer Larry J. Calemine told them he must follow the advice of County Counsel Lloyd W. Pellman, who found it would be unconstitutional to take property from Los Angeles without "just compensation."
"This is a dead horse," Calemine said.
For their part, negotiators for Mayor James K. Hahn and the City Council said Los Angeles would give assets to the new Valley city but only under two conditions.
First, Los Angeles would only transfer property it no longer would need to provide service to the new Valley city under contract. As long as Los Angeles policed Valley streets, for example, it would keep its patrol cars and police stations. As long as it maintained Valley parks or libraries, it would keep those too.
Second, city negotiators demanded a commitment to Los Angeles for payment of the Valley city's share of outstanding liabilities, from library construction debts to judgments in the Rampart police corruption case.
Ron Deaton, the City Council's negotiator, said the Valley city must guarantee payment of its share of "all citywide liabilities in every fashion."
Negotiators for the Valley VOTE secession group agreed to both conditions.
"The idea is to have that transfer as quickly as possible," said Valley VOTE consultant Walter Kieser.
Under LAFCO's latest secession plan, the new Valley city would contract with Los Angeles to provide all city services for $1 billion a year.
The Valley city's mayor and council eventually could build a full-blown government from scratch to provide its own services, or hire private contractors to replace Los Angeles. But when and how that might happen--if at all--will be unknown when the referendum takes place.
Despite the tentative deal, Valley VOTE negotiator Robert Scott said it was "hard to believe" that LAFCO couldn't include an asset split in the ballot measure and let voters decide whether to approve it.
"All we've ever asked for is a fair and equitable share," he said.