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More Questions Than Answers

February 11, 2001

Last Monday's daylong symposium, "Right Sizing Local and Regional Government," sponsored by the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, took Valley secession pretty much for granted. Many who attended had clearly given up on Los Angeles, at least that portion south of Mulholland Drive, and were busy coming up with the best way to govern a new Valley city.

Secessionists felt vindicated when three speakers argued that large cities don't necessarily provide cheaper services through economies of scale; such savings are often touted as a reason not to break up Los Angeles.

But urban policy experts and government officials from as far away as Saskatchewan and London did suggest that some services are better done on a regional basis. Which services depended on which speaker; fire and rescue, planning, waste management and libraries were among the nominees.

This prompted discussion of a two-tiered government, one that left some services to a regional body and put others under more local control. London, a city of 7 million divided into 32 boroughs, offered one example.

Attorney David Fleming, chairman of the alliance and a supporter of the study that could lead to Valley cityhood, suggested that the Valley, with a population of 1.3 million, could overcome its own too-big-to-govern problem by dividing itself into boroughs or districts based on its already well-established communities.

It's hard to say how a borough of Pacoima, a low-income community, would feel it stacks up services-wise against a comfortably middle-class borough of Sherman Oaks. There didn't appear to be a lot of people from Pacoima at the symposium to ask.

Even the participants noticed that for all the disparaging talk about the "downtown power elite," the 100 or so businessmen and women gathered in the rooftop meeting room at the Sheraton Universal Hotel to discuss forming a new city were a pretty elite group themselves.

Those attending the symposium spoke of the need to seek out minorities and new immigrants, to draw from a broader spectrum of the Valley's diverse communities. But the need to do so in itself raises questions about the downside of local-local governments.

What keeps local "communities of interest" from being segregated, both ethnically and economically? Why would people vote on something that might benefit the larger community but not their own? And is our sense of community tied solely to our immediate neighborhood?

Not just the rest of the Valley but the rest of Los Angeles needs to help find the answers.

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