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LAFCO Could Force Transfer of L.A. Assets to Valley, Lawyer Says

Secession: Breakaway city may not have to pay compensation, state legal opinion contends. Some officials dispute findings.

January 13, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Contradicting lawyers for the county and city, a state attorney Saturday said Los Angeles can be ordered to transfer police stations, parks and other assets to a proposed San Fernando Valley city without compensation.

The legal opinion by the state legislative counsel sparked new debate over how much power the Local Agency Formation Commission has in ordering the division of assets if the Valley, harbor area and Hollywood break away from Los Angeles.

The county counsel, who advises LAFCO, and city attorney, who represents Los Angeles, have released legal opinions that concluded LAFCO does not have authority to order Los Angeles to transfer assets to the proposed new cities without compensation or consent.

"The county counsel ignored every scrap of case law on the subject and now has been authoritatively repudiated by the very office that drafted those laws," said state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who released the state opinion during a news conference in front of the Van Nuys government center Saturday.

Los Angeles officials have attempted to use the leverage from the county legal opinion to demand financial concessions from a Valley city in exchange for giving consent to transferring assets to a proposed city at no cost.

City officials have offered to relinquish control of assets in the Valley without requiring compensation, but only if the Valley reaches an agreement that otherwise makes Los Angeles financially whole for other costs.

But because those costs, including lost revenue to Los Angeles, are still in dispute, LAFCO's power to settle the issue is key.

If compensation is mandated, it could threaten the financial viability of a Valley city, which LAFCO has found would otherwise be able to operate with budget surpluses.

Officials Disagree on Opinion's Weight

Reacting to the legislative counsel's report, city officials said the opinion of LAFCO's own attorney, the county counsel, should weigh more than an opinion by a third party.

"The state of California and the legislative counsel does not represent anyone involved in this process directly," said Ron Deaton, the city's chief legislative analyst.

Officials with the county counsel's office were not available to comment Saturday, but a spokeswoman for Mayor James K. Hahn also downplayed the significance of the latest legal opinion.

"We've already had two opinions on this," mayoral aide Julie Wong said.

But Richard Close, chairman of the secession group Valley VOTE, argued Saturday that the county counsel advises LAFCO as a matter of convenience because the legislative counsel is not always available.

Close also said he believes the state opinion will weigh more in LAFCO's final determination.

Deputy Legislative Counsel Ben E. Dale said in the 16-page legal opinion that transferring a property from one jurisdiction to another "does not result in a compensable taking" under provisions of the California Constitution.

He also found it was not the intent of legislation regulating reorganizations to mandate compensation for city properties that are transferred.

LAFCO, the opinion found, has discretion to decide whether compensation is warranted.

That could strengthen the hand of LAFCO Executive Director Larry Calemine, who had previously challenged the county counsel's opinion.

Some officials, including Councilman and LAFCO member Hal Bernson, believe the issue may end up in the courts.

McClintock and Close accused the county and city officials of trying to deliberately obstruct a secession vote.

They were joined at the news conference by 30 leaders and supporters of Valley VOTE, including Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) and former Assembly members Paula Boland and Richard Katz.

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