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Petty Politics May Cost the Rest of Us a World-Class City

Self-interested City Hall ploys play into secessionist hands.

June 09, 2002|FRANK del OLMO | Frank del Olmo is associate editor of The Times.

If the secessionists who want to break Los Angeles into several smaller cities are eventually successful, then what happened last week could prove pivotal in their campaign.

I am not referring to the official approval for Hollywood to join the San Fernando Valley in holding a secession election in November.

That is no small matter, to be sure. There will now be two organized campaigns in two parts of the city working to persuade voters in the Valley and Hollywood to break away, and voters in the rest of town to let them go. But everyone could see the Hollywood vote coming once the Local Agency Formation Commission concluded two weeks ago that Hollywood could pay its bills if it were to become a city.

That is why it was so infuriating to see that even as the vote affirming LAFCO's study of Hollywood's finances was looming, the powers that be at City Hall, encouraged by some powerful downtown political activists, continued to go blithely about their self-centered business as if secession were an annoyance rather than a real possibility.

I refer to the continued jockeying among Los Angeles City Council members Jan Perry, Nick Pacheco, Ed Reyes, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Nate Holden over how council districts will be drawn in and around Los Angeles' central core. They squabbled like kids in a sandbox last week, with a final council vote on redistricting scheduled for Tuesday.

For those who have forgotten, some months ago a citizens' commission presented members of the City Council with new maps for 15 districts based on population changes found in the 2000 census. The commission did so under a provision of the new City Charter that was intended to minimize the influence of personal political ambitions or rivalries on the redistricting process.

The citizens' commission came up with maps that could be faulted as politically correct--they were drawn to minimize any potential conflicts between African American and Latino council candidates, for instance. But they also took into account the strong secession sentiment in the Valley by putting five full council districts there.

All in all, a reasonable compromise worked out by citizens with no vested interest in who's up or who's down in City Hall. Unfortunately, a handful of council members with districts near downtown could not leave well enough alone and started tweaking the lines to claim bits and pieces of expensive real estate from rookie Councilwoman Perry, who represents the area.

Normally these petty internal maneuverings might have been kept inside City Hall. But some movers and shakers who seem to consider downtown their personal bailiwick--among them Cardinal Roger Mahony, businessman and arts patron Eli Broad and Staples Center developer Ed Roski--started a heavy-handed campaign in support of "their" councilwoman, insisting that downtown must remain in one district.

Where were these guys when Van Nuys was divided among five districts the last time the City Council map was redrawn?

I'm not equating Van Nuys with downtown because any such comparison is obviously apples versus oranges. But how about the hypocrisy of powerful guys who can get a phone call back from anyone in town whining about the fact that they might have to deal with two or three council members rather than just one? It just breaks your heart, doesn't it?

Frankly, I don't give two hoots who represents downtown.

But I do think it would be nice if the city of Los Angeles were to remain reasonably whole. And the more Perry and other council members squabble over a few blocks downtown, the more residents of the Valley and Hollywood--and just maybe other parts of town someday--will conclude the secessionists are right, and further, that the denizens of City Hall really don't care what the average Angeleno wants.

And if voters carry that attitude to the polls in November, you can kiss the City of Angels, as we have known it, goodbye.

And then where will Mahony, Broad, Roski and the like be, without a "world class" city to lord over?

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