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THE SECESSION QUESTION

East Doesn't Meet West on Valley Split

Secession: Attitudes follow geographic lines. Approval runs deepest among area's old guard.

July 03, 2002|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Across the San Fernando Valley, the yearning to secede from Los Angeles trumps the desire to stay together among most groups of voters--men and women, old and young, Latino and white, the college-educated and high school dropouts, according to the Los Angeles Times Poll.

But the depth of support for secession fluctuates widely. One of the most striking gaps emerged along geographic lines within the Valley, the poll found.

In the West Valley--whose population is wealthier, more conservative, less transient and contains a higher proportion of whites--59% favor secession and 32% oppose it. Only 45% of East Valley residents support a split, while 42% disapprove.

The difference can be partly attributed to the West Valley's stable base of longtime residents. Most voters who have lived in the Valley for a decade or longer favor secession, perhaps reflecting a long-simmering unhappiness with City Hall.

Voters who have moved to the Valley from somewhere else in the city view secession less favorably. Newer residents are split on the issue.

Overall, 52% of Valley registered voters favor a separate city and 37% oppose it, the poll found. In Los Angeles as a whole, only 38% support the split while 47% do not. To win, the secession measure on the Nov. 5 ballot must attract a majority both in the Valley and citywide.

The urge to secede runs deepest among what could be called the Valley's old guard: Republicans, self-identified conservatives and moderates, wealthier residents and those living in the West Valley, where the secession movement began in the 1960s.

More than a third of the West Valley's registered voters are lifelong Valley residents, according to the poll. Only 13% have lived there less than a decade. But on the other side of the San Diego Freeway, 27% have spent their lives there and almost as many are newcomers.

Irvin Park, a poll respondent from Northridge, is one of the West Valley's old-timers. He moved to the Valley half a century ago, a young World War II veteran. Now 76 and retired, he vigorously supports secession because "I'm just not happy with what I'm seeing."

Park, a white conservative Republican, says he is particularly upset about rising crime and illegal immigration.

"I'd like to move someplace where there's a little, small town, probably Oregon or Washington or someplace like that," he mused. "I think the Valley is overgrown."

The West Valley's enthusiasm for secession--people there favor an independent Hollywood more than Hollywood residents do--comes as no surprise to Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

"It's a more conservative area, populated by people who feel especially distant from City Hall and the downtown powers that be," he said. "Part of it is NIMBYism, part of it is wanting to turn back the clock, part of it is wanting to avoid what they feel Los Angeles is becoming. They're trying to retain a lifestyle they feel is eroding."

Liberals Disapprove

Support for splitting off from Los Angeles is much softer among Valley Democrats and people living in the less-affluent neighborhoods east of the San Diego Freeway. Opposition to secession outweighs approval among liberals and households earning less than $40,000 a year.

Shaking the notion that a breakaway appeals chiefly to whites, the poll found that support is nearly even among white and Latino voters in the Valley. A majority of both groups say the region would be better off as an independent city.

Fred Plascencia, a Latino Democrat who lives in Canoga Park, said a Valley city would pay more attention to its poor neighborhoods.

"The more Latin areas, with more minorities, are pretty primitive compared to Encino and Woodland Hills," said Plascencia, a 32-year-old music producer. "I was raised in Sylmar and Pacoima, and there are still roads there that are dirt. The same cracks in the same streets have been there for years. If the Valley controlled its own money, maybe we could tend to the roads and graffiti and all the neighborhoods a little better."

The roots of the secession movement stretch back more than 40 years, to a time when the 222-square-mile Valley was largely white, still dotted with citrus groves, and much more conservative.

In 1961, a coalition of West Valley civic and business leaders--fed up with perceived mistreatment by City Hall--began exploring the idea of forming their own city.

Virginia Tucker, a white Republican who has called the Valley home for 43 years, said she has watched her Van Nuys neighborhood turn from a safe and friendly "paradise" to a dirty, crime-ridden area.

"Gangs are getting out of hand," said Tucker, who favors secession. "Graffiti is everywhere. When I moved here, there was no graffiti. People took care of their yards. It was just a more friendly neighborhood ....We're so multicultural now, you know. There are language barriers. So many new people are coming in now that a lot of them hesitate to get friendly."

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