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THE CASE FOR UNITY

Lights, Camera, Breakup?

June 11, 2002

You don't have to embrace secession to recognize the roots of the San Fernando Valley's campaign in the 1970s Proposition 13 tax revolt and anti-busing movements. The coalition of homeowner groups and business interests promoting Valley secession complains about taxes, services, bureaucracy and a downtown government that's too far away.

But Hollywood? Business leaders there are not agitating for a breakup. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a formal position, and an informal internal survey found members leaning against secession 2 to 1. Even the movie studios are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Homeowner groups on the boundaries have asked to be removed from the proposed city's borders.

And Hollywood is not a mountain range away from downtown City Hall. It is smack in the middle of the city.

Scratch the fast-moving Hollywood secession movement and you find not a group but the individual who unapologetically wants to be the new city's mayor, millionaire nightclub owner and promoter Gene La Pietra.

When Hollywood's secession petition came in too late to share in public money allocated to study Valley and harbor area proposals, La Pietra paid for the study himself with part of the half-million he says he has spent so far on the campaign.

Many of the nine members of the Local Agency Formation Commission have openly boosted secession and gladly speeded the application along so that Hollywood could be on the same ballot as the Valley. Even so, two of the nine commissioners voted against the measure and another abstained, noting the boundary disputes and other questions left unanswered in all the rush.

Of course there are others who back secession, but La Pietra is the movement's only general. He has yet to explain in detail how he, or a new city government, would cure Hollywood's mostly poverty-driven problems.

Charismatic and controversial, La Pietra has borrowed the hyperbole of the Valley secession movement, claiming that Hollywood has suffered "100 years of neglect."

Split between the wealth of its hillsides and its immigrant-heavy, densely populated flats, Hollywood has highly visible problems ranging from trash on the streets to prostitution and drugs.

But to say the area has been neglected is to ignore recent city-backed efforts at reclamation, from the Hollywood & Highland mall, which brought the Oscars back to Hollywood this year, to the underground Metro Red Line.

Those who believe in one Los Angeles must persuade discontented Valley and Hollywood residents that solutions far less drastic than dismantling Los Angeles can work, including recent reforms such as neighborhood councils and local planning commissions.

If the Valley is this city's middle-class heart, Hollywood, from its starred Walk of Fame to its famed sign, is the personification of Los Angeles as city of dreams.

These dreams belong to all of Los Angeles, not to one man who wants to be mayor of his own city.

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