The proposed San Fernando Valley city now resembles not so much a divorcing spouse as a rebellious teenager leaving home--but still relying on mom and dad for day-to-day essentials.
Under the radically changed plan for Valley cityhood, the new municipality would be free from Los Angeles as a political entity, but its independence would be severely limited in a practical sense--at least for a while.
The breakup plan unveiled Friday by the agency studying secession marked an abrupt reversal from the one it presented seven months ago.
The proposal would create a city government with 15 elected officials and 19 staff members to manage a $1-billion budget and represent 1.4 million people. The breakaway city would take its first steps with only indirect control over its services.
And because it would have to fork over most of its money to Los Angeles to pay for everything from firefighters to dogcatchers, it would end up with a tiny surplus--less than $7 million to start--that could evaporate in an economic downturn, the plan says.
The new city's identity also could remain somewhat murky: The Valley would be patrolled by Los Angeles police, served by Los Angeles libraries and dotted with Los Angeles parks. The only asset the Valley would take with it would be its streets.
"It's freedom, but at what cost?" asked Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, the group leading the secession drive.
Close vowed to fight for the Valley's fair share of assets, including police and fire stations, libraries and Van Nuys Airport. Still, he said, "If this was the final plan, we could live with it. We can't lose sight of what's important here, which is that a Valley city is feasible."
The Local Agency Formation Commission's new plan is subject to public hearings and further revision. The commission is expected to place secession on the November 2002 ballot. A breakup must be approved by a majority of voters in the Valley and the rest of Los Angeles.
The new plan is a far cry from what was once envisioned by secessionists--a city with wholly owned police and fire departments, holding shares of major city assets even outside the Valley.
LAFCO now recommends putting Valley independence before voters without dividing the spoils beforehand. That would sidestep the most vexing questions about how to permanently split a city that has been whole since 1915.
On the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles would also experience changes. For starters, the city would have to redraw its council districts and hold new elections.
But since Los Angeles would retain control of its water and power systems, airports, sewers and just about everything else, most residents would probably detect few immediate differences, city officials say.
"Other than the new council seats, I don't think anyone would notice any change at all," said Assistant City Administrative Officer Ellen Sandt. "You'd have the same city staff providing the same city services with the same city equipment."
Under the new plan, Los Angeles would collect much of the Valley city's revenues as payment for services. In essence, Los Angeles would become a massive contractor, sending out bills to the fledgling Valley government.
The plan assumes that Los Angeles would provide the contract services for at least the first year of Valley cityhood, beginning July 2003. After that, the two cities would negotiate service agreements until the Valley either staffs its own departments or hires other contractors, such as Los Angeles County.
The Valley would also pay Los Angeles $60.8 million a year to make up for lost revenue.
But the process is rife with unknowns. Valley residents might actually receive worse service than before the split, according to LAFCO's fiscal analysis and Los Angeles officials.
Capt. Ken Buzzell, president of the Los Angeles firefighters union, said the Valley has more brush fires than the rest of the city. If the area breaks away, the Los Angeles Fire Department might be unwilling to put the 222-square-mile Valley at the top of its priority list, he said.
"We'd worry about protecting the city of L.A. before we'd consider protecting their area," Buzzell said.
Officials Would Become Middlemen
Secessionists dismiss that as an empty threat.
For Valleyites with a gripe about service, the bureaucratic chain of command would still snake back to Los Angeles City Hall--just like before.
Need graffiti scoured off a sidewalk? A complaint to the Valley Department of Public Works--consisting only of a director, an engineer and a part-time secretary--would be relayed to the service provider: the city of Los Angeles.
The main job of the Valley's department heads would be to make sure Los Angeles adheres to its contracts. Backing up the agency chiefs would be a Valley mayor and City Council with the power to take their business elsewhere, presuming that is economically feasible.