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THE CASE FOR UNITY

Council, Stand and Deliver

July 12, 2002

Leaders of the San Fernando Valley secession movement were hellbent on putting their bid to break up Los Angeles on the November ballot--until last month's Los Angeles Times poll showed secession losing citywide. Now the chairman and a key financial backer of secession are making noises about postponing a vote for two years--in exchange for the city agreeing to substitute a measure creating a borough system. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

Don't get us wrong--the notion of a borough system is intriguing. But even if secession leaders had the power to choose another date now that their campaign is snowballing toward a vote, why would the city accept a deal like this? Postponing a vote merely gives secession advocates the chance to gather more support while holding their sword over Los Angeles for two more years. If they couldn't dictate every aspect of a borough proposal, they would head back to the ballot box.

Look at secessionists' "yes, but" record on city reforms and you'll see that compromise is not their style. Complaints from Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close and others that city government ignores Valley needs have led to the creation of a fifth City Council seat for the Valley, regional boards that give residents more say in local planning decisions and a network of neighborhood councils. Yet nothing slowed a secession crusade that has so far cost taxpayers more than $2 million in studies without sprucing up a single park, filling a single pothole or creating a single job for anyone but consultants.

If city leaders were right to reject the secessionists' boneheaded deal, however, they would be wrong to dismiss the need to make Los Angeles work better.

We had hoped Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg and Councilwoman Wendy Greuel would forge a detailed, pragmatic and politically sensible plan from their dueling proposals to create a borough system to better address local needs. That didn't happen. Greuel now wants the council to put a measure on the ballot committing the city to creating a borough plan but leaving the details up to a commission. We're sympathetic to her fear that without a mandate, the idea could lose steam. But sometimes, good ideas lose steam for a reason. Polls here show little understanding of a borough system; the Times poll found that most people favored putting a borough plan on the ballot, but the poll also suggested that most wouldn't vote for it.

The drive for better local government need not be lost. Many of the advantages of a borough system, such as bringing public services to local "city halls" and better coordinating graffiti removal, tree-trimming and trash pickup, could be provided now if the mayor and the council had the political will. The secession vote is still four months away. If the council can be shamed, let it be shamed now by the threat of city dissolution into providing the local services that it could have all along.

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