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First a City, Then a Mayor

July 31, 2001

The government agency that will decide whether to put San Fernando Valley secession to a citywide vote also must decide whether the election of a Valley mayor and city council members should be on the same ballot. That's like inviting guests to a housewarming when the mortgage hasn't been approved. One step at a time, please.

Combining a cityhood vote with a municipal election has been done in the past, but in those cases much smaller cities were incorporated out of unincorporated county land. As much as secession advocates want to speed things up, breaking apart the nation's second-largest city is too complex an undertaking to be rushed. The Los Angeles city attorney's office points out, for example, that if the Valley secedes--and that is still a very, very big if--the four Los Angeles City Council members from the Valley, including Council President Alex Padilla of Pacoima, would lose their offices. What remained of Los Angeles would be forced to reapportion itself into new districts, a time-consuming endeavor that must conform to voting rights laws.

Putting both cityhood and Valley elected offices on the ballot might save the cost of an additional election, a sound argument in other circumstances. But in this case candidates could win but still not gain office if voters across Los Angeles turned down Valley cityhood. This situation could cost a new Valley city good candidates because of unwillingness to expend the needed campaign money and effort. The savings aren't worth the price.

Even secession advocates are split on the issue. Movement leaders support combined elections, believing that the money spent and publicity generated by multiple campaigns would help win Valley cityhood. Others argue that the distraction would hurt the referendum's chances.

Promoting one outcome or the other is not rightly the concern of the Local Agency Formation Commission, the agency studying the feasibility of Valley cityhood as well as secession proposals from the harbor area and Hollywood. Providing clarity is. California knows too well that the price of confusing or poorly written ballot measures is drawn-out court battles and new laws to correct the mistakes. Should it come to a vote, the proposal to break apart Los Angeles will be controversial enough. The last thing the city needs is a ballot that would make it even more so.

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