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Some Have Second Thoughts on Secession

Valley: A few leaders who had leaned toward a civic divorce but are troubled by the details no longer back breakup.

June 12, 2002|SHARON BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A small but influential group of San Fernando Valley residents have distanced themselves from the secession group Valley VOTE, some criticizing the secession proposal making its way toward the November ballot and others simply unsure about whether to move forward now that breaking up Los Angeles is a real possibility.

At play are factors ranging from practical concerns about the impact of secession on water rates to long-standing political rivalries and disagreements.

Also in the mix is the lure of two proposals to restructure Los Angeles into boroughs, an alternative to secession that supporters hope will win the backing of people who are unhappy with city services but wary of taking the more dramatic move of breaking up the city.

"I have to be convinced that my neighbors and I would be a lot better off if the Valley secedes," said Barbara Romey, a community activist and longtime secession supporter. "Why would you go from the frying pan into the fire?"

Last week, the heads of two powerful Valley homeowner associations criticized Valley VOTE, which was formed to study secession but has evolved into a powerful advocate of breaking up the city.

Don Shultz of the Van Nuys Homeowners Assn. resigned from the organization's board, angry that its leadership had made a political compromise that would parcel Van Nuys into six council districts in the new city.

Schultz said he will appear at a news conference today with Mayor James K. Hahn to formally announce his opposition to secession. Hahn called the news conference at Van Nuys City Hall to highlight the defection of such a prominent secessionist.

"I'm opposing secession because I feel it is not good for Van Nuys," Schultz said. "When they divided Van Nuys into six Valley council districts, we were betrayed."

Tony Lucente, head of the 2,300-household Studio City Residents Assn. said his members will consider withdrawing from Valley VOTE at a meeting later this month. Like others who joined the group because they favored studying secession and giving residents the right to vote, the association must now decide if its members support cityhood for the Valley outright.

"We participated in the effort to seek a study of secession," Lucente said. "But they have moved into a position of advocacy.... I'm very uncomfortable having the 2,300 member-households of our association listed as supporting [cityhood] when they have not."

Other area leaders--including former U.S. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, a longtime secession supporter, and former Valley VOTE board members Lee Alpert and Rob Glushon--have backed away from full support of the secession proposal headed for the November ballot.

Even David Fleming, the Studio City attorney who helped fund the campaign to bring secession before the voters and is viewed as a key ally, said this week that he had not decided whether to vote for the proposal this fall, or to help fund the campaign in favor of Valley cityhood.

"This happens in politics all the time," said Richard Katz, chairman of the pro-secession political campaign. "People have really strong-held beliefs until they have to make a decision. And then they have to find out if they really believe what they've been saying."

Katz said he expects people on both sides of the issue to change their minds as they consider the implications of secession, which would wrest 40% of the population--and half the city's white residents--out of Los Angeles.

But he urged supporters not to be dissuaded by minor flaws in the plan.

"There's an old adage about not letting the perfect get in the way of the good," Katz said. "You can always find a reason to delay change."

Alpert, a Northridge attorney who is a former Valley VOTE board member and a winner of the Valley's Fernando Award for volunteerism and community service, said that information about the proposed new city's finances is too sketchy for him to sign on wholeheartedly.

He is concerned, for example, that Los Angeles would raise water rates for Valley residents, despite a decision by the Local Agency Formation Commission, which is overseeing the secession process, to require Los Angeles to provide water and power to a new Valley city at the same rates it charges its own residents. L.A. officials say that they don't have to abide by such a rule, and suggest that they may indeed raise rates for Valley customers if need be.

"The [LAFCO] report is in many instances very generic," Alpert said. "It doesn't give me the specifics I need."

Rather than stay on with Valley VOTE, Alpert helped to form a new organization, the Civic Forum, whose members pledge to remain neutral on secession. Lucente has also joined the group, which aims to funnel impartial information on secession to voters.

Glushon is another former Valley VOTE board member, and the group's onetime lawyer. He, too, "leaned" toward secession, because it fits with his political belief that local control of government is more democratic, and gives the average person a greater voice.

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