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Group Disputes Estimated Cost of a Valley City

Secession: Breakup proponents' analysis trims millions off LAFCO's $1-billion-a-year projection.

January 03, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Fernando Valley secessionists asserted Wednesday that they can set up a city for hundreds of millions of dollars less than previously estimated.

The Local Agency Formation Commission, the agency studying secession, has estimated that services for a Valley city would cost $1 billion per year.

The secession group Valley VOTE, however, estimates the annual cost at $626 million.

"We think the same level of service can be provided at costs substantially below $1 billion," said Walter Kieser, a managing principal of the consulting firm Economic and Planning Systems Inc., which provided the new estimate.

Kieser said the analysis is an evaluation of calculations made by a LAFCO consultant.

Some LAFCO assumptions, such as the cost of police services, were challenged.

"It's based on another way of doing things," he said.

While LAFCO based its estimate on what currently is budgeted by Los Angeles to serve the Valley, Kieser said that included hundreds of positions, including police officers, not filled in the Valley.

The new analysis reduces the costs to account for those unfilled positions, Kieser said.

Although the estimate has been submitted to LAFCO, Valley VOTE and Kieser are putting the finishing touches on a proposed annual budget for the first three years, which VOTE President Jeff Brain estimates will be in the $800-million range.

The Kieser report, which will be a basis for drafting a more formal budget, was met with skepticism at City Hall.

Mayor James K. Hahn believes LAFCO should rely on estimates by its own consultants, which came up with the $1-billion figure based on data provided by the city, Hahn spokeswoman Julie Wong said.

"They need to be careful about underestimating the cost of providing services to city neighborhoods," Wong said.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski also will scrutinize any estimates that services can be provided for much less, said Lisa Gritzner, an aide to the councilwoman.

"Historically, what we have seen is it always costs more than we think it will," she said.

Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close said the group's consultant found what he had suspected.

"The preliminary conclusion is that the Valley city can be operated with a large surplus, which can be used for more police and other services," Close said.

Valley VOTE declined to say how much the consultant was paid, or who paid it.

The group also released a list of buildings that it wants transferred from ownership by Los Angeles to a new Valley city, including six police stations, 34 fire stations, 19 libraries and 131 parks.

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