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Breakup Backers to Seek Wider Appeal

Secession: Opposition will continue to stress the possible pitfalls. Both sides say Valley is still the main battleground.

July 07, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leaders of the anti-secession campaign say they will stick with their strategy of highlighting the risks of a municipal breakup, while advocates of an independent San Fernando Valley and Hollywood concede they must do more to appeal to key groups of voters.

A recent Los Angeles Times Poll found support for secession is holding firm in the Valley but has slipped citywide and seems anemic in Hollywood.

"We have a message that resonates. We've got to get the message to more people," said Richard Katz, a former assemblyman and co-chairman of the San Fernando Valley Independence Committee.

Mayor James K. Hahn said he will keep voters focused on the possible pitfalls of secession, and also draw attention to how City Hall is changing to better meet their needs. When not attacking secession as a recipe for higher taxes and reduced police protection, the mayor has been busy holding news conferences to tout neighborhood councils, economic development in Hollywood and plans to improve a range of city services in the Valley.

"People are noticing we are doing things differently in L.A.," Hahn said. "We are going to continue doing what we have been doing, saying that L.A. is a great city and we are moving in the right direction."

Both campaigns say the Valley remains the main battleground in the Nov. 5 election. Secessionists are counting on carrying the Valley with a large enough margin to tip the citywide vote in their favor. The poll, however, shows them short of that mark.

It found that Valley secession is backed by 52% of voters in the Valley and 38% of voters citywide, while Hollywood cityhood is opposed by 61% of voters in that area. To win, the secession measures must receive a majority of votes in the breakaway region and a second majority citywide.

"We certainly need to carry the Valley with a strong majority, whether it is 58% or 60%," said Frank Schubert, a political strategist for the Valley and Hollywood secession campaigns.

The numbers outside the Valley suggest that breakup advocates need to do a better job explaining to voters how they would benefit from a municipal split, said political strategist Arnold Steinberg, who conducted a poll for the secession group Valley VOTE two years ago but is no longer involved in the campaign.

"The [Times] survey confirms that these movements have not had a clear, focused message," Steinberg said.

Larry Berg, retired founder of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a Valley resident, said the message coming from the Hollywood secessionists is even murkier. "I think Hollywood [secession] is dead," he said.

City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents much of Hollywood and is opposed to secession, said a key finding in the poll was that only 10% of Hollywood residents believe the city is shortchanging them. "We are on the right track."

But Hollywood secession leaders say they are about to broaden their campaign, and will continue to hit hard on the theme that the city has neglected the area. The secessionists have new offices and a phone bank on Santa Monica Boulevard. Hollywood VOTE founder Gene La Pietra, who is funding much of the effort, says the campaign has about 200 volunteers.

La Pietra and Geoffrey Garfield, campaign manager for the Hollywood Independence Committee, said they are lining up precinct captains to organize the volunteers neighborhood by neighborhood. "To use a Lakers' analogy, this is only the first quarter of this game," La Pietra said. "We have three more quarters in which to win this thing, and we're going to do it."

He also said the campaign will encourage voters citywide to look at the blight in Hollywood. "Their hearts will be broken and they'll support what we're doing," he added. "They'll see how neglected and abused the area is, and they'll vote for for us."

In the Valley, Laurette Healey, co-chairwoman of the secession campaign committee, agreed a sharper pro-breakup message is needed. She also said the poll underscored the campaign's need to do more to reach black and Latino voters citywide, who are leaning heavily against secession.

"We have not explained enough about how their lives will actually be improved," Healey said.

The secession proponents will work harder to convince Latinos in the East Valley--where voters are split on secession--that the ballot measure is an "unprecedented opportunity" to create a city in which they would be major force, Healey said. Voter registration figures in six of the 14 council districts in an independent Valley would favor the election of Latino candidates.

The Valley secession camp will send a similar message to African American voters in other parts of the city, Healey said.

"The African American community has the same opportunity that those living in the Valley have for a compressed city with more local control," she said.

Hahn campaign strategist Kam Kuwata, however, said the poll made clear that the mayor's views on secession have won over African American and Latino voters, especially outside the Valley. "Those are strongholds for us," Kuwata said, "but we are not going to take those areas for granted."

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Times staff writer Nita Lelyveld contributed to this report.

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