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Give Me Liberty or Give Me 0% Financing

Community: A North Hills Ford dealership serves as a key meeting place for the secession group Valley VOTE.

July 04, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another [they] should declare the cause ... at a Ford dealership?

Galpin Ford in North Hills is where secessionists declare the San Fernando Valley's independence. For the last three years, they have held their strategy sessions in a borrowed conference room above rows of shiny Explorers.

The giant auto store looks more like an airport terminal than like Philadelphia's Independence Hall, but the location makes some sense as a meeting place for Valley VOTE, the group advocating a split from Los Angeles. After all, selling a new city can have much in common with selling a new car.

"You have to create the excitement," Galpin salesman Mark Evans said on a recent evening, while Valley VOTE members were meeting upstairs.

"You have to see what the hot button is. Some people are looking for safety. Some are looking for more room."

The people pitching the secession measure on the Nov. 5 ballot say voters should trade in L.A. for a smaller city that is safer (increased police patrols), more responsive (better delivery of services) and cheaper (lower taxes).

But those who want to keep L.A. together say buyer beware: An independent Valley would be a lemon that voters can't even test drive. "The minute you drive it off the showroom floor, it's worth less than it was," said Larry Levine, a political strategist leading the anti-secession group One Los Angeles.

"Don't you wish you had back that car you sold when you were a kid?" Levine asked. "If they secede, they're going to one day say, 'I wish I had it back.' "

The Valley and the rest of L.A. sprawled with the auto's popularity, so it might seem strange that what is billed as the world's largest-volume Ford dealership hosts a movement upset about the city's size. At its lots on Roscoe Boulevard--"one block east of the 405 Freeway, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley''--Galpin Motors sells more than 24,000 vehicles a year.

"If we do half as good a job pitching what we are as they do selling Fords, we'll win this thing in a walk," said former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a secession campaign leader.

Galpin owner Bert Boeckmann, who sold Fords for dealership founder Frank Galpin before buying him out, is one of the Valley's most prominent secession supporters. He donates use of the room to Valley VOTE and paid for an early poll. Valley VOTE President Jeff Brain drives a black Expedition from Galpin, but says he got the same deal offered any customer.

On the third Monday evening of each month, Brain and company enter the gleaming Galpin showroom, walk past the SST Ford Expedition endorsed by Shaquille O'Neal and climb the stairs to the conference room, where they sit in mauve chairs at pink-veneered tables. The walls are bare, but there is a view of a Denny's restaurant and an Anheuser-Busch brewery that wafts a soggy-bread aroma.

The meetings are open to the public and have begun to attract crowds of 100. At one session, a campaign worker laid out an easy-payment plan for contributors. "We can charge your credit card," she said. "We can make it as easy for you as you will let us."

During the day, Galpin employees use the room for sales and motivational meetings. Among the training materials kept in the audiovisual closet is a video series titled "Leonard Learns Leasing," which might prove useful to secessionists studying a plan to lease city services from Los Angeles after a breakup.

And if an independent Valley needs to buy a fleet of cars? "Not a problem," Boeckmann said.

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