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THE CASE FOR UNITY

Give a Cheer, Then Get Busy

July 03, 2002

A Times poll released Tuesday on Hollywood and San Fernando Valley secession is cause for cheer but not complacency. Even if the vote were held today and secession lost, half the Valley residents polled still would want out. City leaders can't ignore that if Los Angeles is to be united in more than name.

According to the poll, 38% of residents citywide favor San Fernando Valley secession and 47% oppose it. In the Valley, however, those polled supported a breakaway city 52% to 37%, which is why proponents of unity can't rest easy. Hollywood secession would lose 25% to 59% citywide and even more resoundingly within Hollywood, where 61% of registered voters polled opposed a breakup. Almost 40% said they were upset to find their neighborhood in the proposed city, a condemnation of the unseemly rush to get Hollywood on the ballot.

For a secession measure to pass, it would have to win in the area petitioning to secede and citywide. Leaders of the Valley secession movement figure that high voter turnout and strong support in the Valley could tip the citywide vote in their favor. The Times poll suggests that they would fall short of the 65% Valley margin they say they need. Still, four months of campaigning lie ahead.

The poll found that secession's staunchest supporters are white, affluent, Republican, self-described conservatives or moderates who live in the West Valley, the stronghold of secession for decades. Its most ardent opponents live outside the Valley and are liberals, Democrats, Jews and African Americans. These are dividing lines that determine so many Los Angeles elections, and they're not very flexible. Even electing a moderate Republican, Richard Riordan, to the nonpartisan mayor's office failed to quell secession fever; the drive to put it on the ballot began during his tenure.

But support for secession also transcends old patterns and ideologies. Latinos, for example, split along geographic lines, with 52% of Valley Latinos polled supporting secession and 36% of Latinos citywide. The top reasons cited for support were the expectation of a smaller, more efficient government, more local control and better access to city services.

Whether a new Valley city of 1.4 million souls could deliver all that is open to debate. But it is without question that all Los Angeles residents want to feel connected to and respected by their government, and that many Valley residents feel ignored. City leaders can do something about this by energetically supporting the new neighborhood councils and getting city services where they are needed, not later but now. Otherwise voters citywide may well defeat secession only to have a still-divided city.

Nothing will satisfy secession ideologues who have already dismissed every effort to bridge the divide, including the addition of a fifth City Council seat for the Valley. But a city that works could well win over the rest.

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