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Secessionists Invoke the Spirit of '76

July 27, 2002|SHARON BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leigh Bailey, on loan to the San Fernando Valley secession campaign from its better-funded sister effort in Hollywood, is standing in the only spot of shade in the center of a flat, wide Valley park.

There, the campaign worker says, pointing to the very center of the sun-baked meadow, will be red-white-and-blue bunting, kids in towering Uncle Sam hats and, on a big easel, a declaration of independence for the San Fernando Valley, ready for signing.

Never mind that the founding fathers orchestrated their declaration in Philadelphia, and that some pretty interesting people showed up, such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Valley secessionists are hoping to attract an equally impassioned bunch this morning, when they gather in Van Nuys to offer a declaration of their own.

"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds that connect them with another," they will intone, with words that both echo and embellish those of that great declaration at Independence Hall.

They go on to list their grievances: "The City of Los Angeles has provided no major museums in the Valley. The Valley has half the number of libraries as have been located in the remainder of Los Angeles. The Valley is without a mass transit system.... We have for decades petitioned for redress of these inequities."

It's all part of the shoestring campaign to wrest the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles come November.

Today's event, the group's first real rally and its first big effort to attract the media, is meant to celebrate what secessionists view as a historic victory this week, when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors officially placed a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot that would create a new Valley city. A similar measure regarding Hollywood won its place on the ballot Friday; secessionists there held a similar "declaration" event weeks ago.

As secessionists struggle to regain campaign momentum after several weeks of setbacks, they are busy planning more events like the one today in Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park.

Next week, pro-secession forces will hold an "independence ball," featuring roving mariachis and a Filipino big band to showcase the diversity of the Valley. On Aug. 10, they will kick off the fall campaign season early, with a rally for volunteers and supporters.

Their hoped-for comeback will be tightly budgeted. By their accounting, secessionists have raised about $300,000, most of it from their own members. They will be fighting what's expected to be a massive effort led by Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, which has raised about $2 million.

"We've done this whole thing on a shoestring," said Jeff Brain, president of the pro-secession group Valley VOTE.

The cost of the group's two-year campaign to change state law so that secession could go on the ballot was $5,700, Brain said. Today's party, according to Bailey, cost $1,500.

As in those efforts, the group plans to rely on volunteers and word of mouth to spread the secession message. In coming weeks, secession proponents say, they will organize phone banks at borrowed offices and hold four recruiting meetings a week in different parts of the Valley.

"When you have limited funds, it becomes very important to organize your volunteer effort conscientiously," said Laurette Healey, co-chairwoman of the San Fernando Valley Independence Committee.

If more money becomes available, the campaign may be able to afford mailers and broadcast advertising, but those wouldn't come until later in the fall, said Frank Schubert, the committee's political consultant.

Arnold Steinberg, a political strategist who advised some early backers of secession, said he is not certain whether the planned events will give the campaign the boost the separatists hope for.

Today's event, he said, could generate media coverage, particularly from the story-hungry Saturday television news programs. But other events and the recruitment efforts may be too late, he said.

Moreover, he said, the wording of the secessionists' "declaration of independence," which quotes liberally from the real thing, is "hyperbolic overstatement that probably trivializes the issues that need to be discussed."

A USC political scientist, Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, said the planned events could help renew the campaign. But the effort could also backfire, she said.

"They're trying to create an image of motion," Jeffe said. "But there's a risk. What if they have all these events and no people show up?"

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