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Los Angeles

Hertzberg to Pursue Peace in the Valley

Politics: Stepping down as speaker, the assemblyman vows to devote time to seeking an alternative to secession. A borough system has 'potential,' he says.

January 14, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearing the end of his term as Assembly speaker, Bob Hertzberg is preparing to jump into the debate over the future of Los Angeles, and said he wants to play a role in shaping discussion on whether the city should be divided.

The Sherman Oaks Democrat steps down as speaker Feb. 5. In an interview last week, Hertzberg said he plans to devote more time and effort to determining what is the best plan for government in Los Angeles, where many residents feel disenfranchised.

"I have said time and time again that I am not a secessionist," Hertzberg said. "I want to construct a vision for the future for everybody that is positive. I don't know specifically what that is, but I'm going home and I'm going to work on it."

A longtime student of government, Hertzberg said one alternative to secession that intrigues him is creation of a borough system similar to New York City's.

Under that approach, Los Angeles would remain one city with a central city government for citywide issues, but would be divided into boroughs, with each able to elect representatives to make local decisions on planning and budget issues.

"I think it has potential to it, absolutely," Hertzberg said. "A borough system gives to all the various regions that have their own identity an ability to create a government that is more responsive to their community."

As the author of legislation that paved the way for a study of secession, the first step toward cityhood, Hertzberg is seen by both sides of the issue as an important voice in the upcoming debate.

"He is one of the most respected elected officials in the Valley," Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close said. "His views are critical in any debate on Valley cityhood."

Although he opposes breaking up the city, Hertzberg has turned down a request by Mayor James K. Hahn to join the campaign against secession. He said he has no plans to join the effort of Valley VOTE to win approval for a breakup.

Both Hahn and Valley VOTE have made strong overtures to Hertzberg to join their campaigns, but Hertzberg said he hopes to be an active voice above the political fray for the time being.

Hertzberg, who leaves office at the end of the year, also said he has decided against a run for mayor of a new Valley city, assuming the issue is put to voters.

He said he will most likely take a private-sector job--perhaps in law or investment banking--that would allow him to have dinner every night with his wife and three children, ages 10, 12 and 14.

While Hertzberg said he has no plans to become involved in either side of a political campaign involving secession, the speaker has told Hahn that he supports the mayor's efforts to demonstrate to voters how City Hall is more responsive to their concerns.

Friend Richard Katz, a former assemblyman and member of Valley VOTE, said he understands why Hertzberg does not want to be seen yet as taking sides.

"Why start that fight with people if you are not sure it's going to be on the ballot?" Katz said. "I can understand why people are being cautious."

Hertzberg, 47, was his usual bundle of energy during an interview in the spacious speaker's office in Sacramento last week. At one point he brought out a large chart he had made in 1996 detailing all of the state statutes.

"I'm one of those crazy people who reads charters of other cities," Hertzberg said, confessing he has read every proposal ever made for the Los Angeles City Charter since the city's inception.

That knowledge and enthusiasm, he says, will be brought to bear on the issue of how to make Los Angeles work.

"I've been dealing with the energy crisis, and the budget crisis and terrorism and the big issues in the state," he said. "I will put a lot more time and attention to this after the speakership."

The key, he said, is finding a form of government that responds to the needs of residents.

"The concerns of the people of San Pedro, the concerns of the people of the Valley are real," he said.

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