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THE SECESSION QUESTION

Voters Oppose Breaking Up Los Angeles

Times poll: The margin is wide on Hollywood secession. Independence is popular in the Valley, but not enough to carry the citywide vote.

July 02, 2002|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A month into the campaign over secession, voters citywide are leaning against breaking the San Fernando Valley away from Los Angeles and overwhelmingly oppose independence for Hollywood, according to a Los Angeles Times poll.

Secession remains popular in the Valley. After hearing a summary of arguments for and against secession, voters there said they favor a split from Los Angeles, 52% to 37%. But strong resistance in the rest of Los Angeles would lead Valley independence to defeat in the citywide vote, the poll found.

If the election were held today, Valley secession would lose citywide, with 38% in favor and 47% opposed. Hollywood secession would lose 25% to 59% citywide and by at least that much in the proposed Hollywood city, according to the poll. Under the rules governing the proposed breakup, secession requires a majority vote both in the area that would leave the city and in Los Angeles as a whole.

The survey indicates that a central battleground for the next four months of campaigning will be the portion of the Valley east of the San Diego Freeway. It also suggests that overall attitudes toward government and local control, rather than specific issues such as taxes, are likely to drive the result. Virtually no one surveyed, for example, believes that secession will lead to lower taxes, as some advocates have claimed. Many Valley residents say they will vote for secession anyway because they believe their portion of the city has been treated unfairly over the years.

As an alternative to secession, the City Council is weighing a ballot measure that would split Los Angeles into boroughs to provide local management of trash pickup, some zoning issues and other services. The poll found a majority of voters favor putting a borough plan on the ballot. But at this point, only 36% would vote for it, and 42% would oppose it.

The poll, supervised by Times poll director Susan Pinkus, was conducted by telephone from June 20 to 28. It surveyed 1,291 registered voters citywide with a sampling error of 3 percentage points in either direction. The survey included 576 Valley voters with a 4 percentage-point margin of sampling error.

Overall, as voters decide whether to make Los Angeles the first big city in America to break itself into smaller pieces, they feel upbeat about life in the city as it is, the poll found. By 62% to 33%, those surveyed say things are going well in Los Angeles, a view shared by a majority of voters in the Valley.

Valley Feels Overlooked and Underserved

What drives many secession backers is a feeling that the Valley gets less than its fair share of city services and attention, a belief held by 42% of voters in the Valley. Few voters elsewhere in the city say the Valley is short-changed; many pick South-Central as the one section of the city that is discriminated against.

Many secession backers also argue that smaller government and tighter local control would help solve pressing problems.

To Irene Langton, a poll respondent and Studio City resident since 1941, it boils down to the city's failure to clear clogged storm drains on her block.

"We have complained and complained, and nothing happens," said Langton, a retired high school teacher. "A Valley city would be the sixth-largest city in the country, and if L.A. treats it so shabbily--which they do--we might as well try it on our own.

"My political experience has been, the closer the voter gets to the people who make the laws and enforce them, the more likely you are to get service, to get something to happen," she added.

Longtime Valley residents like Langton are the group most prone to favor secession.

Outside the Valley, voters in every section of Los Angeles favor keeping the city intact.

"This is getting to be like the Civil War, where you've just got to stand up and say what's right," said Diane Lamont, a library assistant who lives on the Westside. A breakup, she said, "would hurt everyone in the long run."

So far, more than 3 out of 5 city voters say they have made up their minds on Valley secession. Over the 18-week campaign ahead, supporters and opponents of a breakup intend to spend millions of dollars on television ads to sway the roughly one-third who remain ambivalent--voters like Theresa Albanese, a Chatsworth resident since 1964.

Albanese said she leans toward secession because public schools are bad, taxes are too high, and City Hall neglects the Valley. But she found out last month that secession would not break up the Los Angeles Unified School District, and she has begun to worry that the biggest city on the West Coast might "lose its identity."

"I'm getting a little leery," she said. "I think it would be kind of hard to get used to saying you're not from Los Angeles."

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