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Secession Issue Was Sneaked Onto Ballot, Some in Hollywood Charge

Election: Residents say that too little was done to inform them about the possible breakaway.

June 24, 2002|NITA LELYVELD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In Hollywood, where residents will vote in November on whether to split away from the rest of Los Angeles, people in several neighborhoods say they were blindsided by the news that their slice of the city could soon secede.

Recent debates and forums on Hollywood cityhood have drawn large, vocal crowds, with many speakers complaining that they did not know their communities were included in the proposed secession area. "This has been a silent, sub rosa takeover, a hostile takeover," said Susan Polifronio, who has owned the Counterpoint bookstore on Franklin Avenue since 1979.

She and other residents and merchants have directed their sharpest criticism at the process that led to the Hollywood ballot measure, including the circulation of petitions that they thought authorized a cityhood study only, not an election. They complain too that the Local Agency Formation Commission, which put the Hollywood proposal before voters, did not do enough to inform residents during its months-long review of secession.

City Councilman Tom La Bonge, who represents part of Hollywood, says he hears that complaint often and agrees with it.

"There certainly wasn't enough [information] about Hollywood," he said. "I think LAFCO could have done a better job of articulating their responsibility. I think they could have done a better job of showing what their role and mission was."

Gene La Pietra, founder of the secession group Hollywood VOTE, disagrees. He says secession opponents had plenty of warning that a vote could be coming.

"We engaged in a very painstaking process, going door to door in Hollywood, with door knockers, surveys, petitions. We did a poll. We ourselves held many meetings," La Pietra said. He noted that LAFCO held a series of public hearings around the city, and that the news media covered the commission's proceedings.

Still, some opponents say they were never contacted about secession, and they want nothing to do with it. In the last few weeks, half a dozen homeowners associations have protested their neighborhoods' inclusion in the proposed city.

An independent Hollywood, population 160,000, would be bounded roughly by Laurel Canyon Boulevard on the west, Vermont Avenue on the east, Melrose Avenue on the south and Griffith Park on the north.

Members of the Los Feliz Improvement Assn. persuaded LAFCO to remove an area north of Franklin Avenue from the proposed Hollywood boundaries but failed to get a bigger area to the west excluded.

Ed Hunt, a member of the Melrose Hill Neighborhood Assn., a historic area at the southeastern end of Hollywood, said his group joined with another homeowners organization a year and a half ago to collect 4,000 signatures against secession. But LAFCO said the signatures weren't properly certified and that secessionists had obtained plenty of signatures on their petition in the area.

"At this point, we're pretty well resigned to trying to defeat this at the polls," said Hunt, an architect who chairs his association's planning board. "Everything we've done up until now has been a complete waste of time."

Other opponents say they are furious that they unwittingly helped launch the secession movement by signing the petitions. They say they were told the petitions called merely for a study, although the documents do make a clear reference to an election.

"You know what I call this? A bait-and-switch operation," said Walter Blackman, a retired teacher who lives in the Hollywood Hills and is a member of the anti-secession group Hollywood and Los Angeles as One (HALO).

A copy of the original petition received by LAFCO is labeled "Petition for Special Reorganization." Underneath the title, it reads: "This petition proposes to request LAFCO to study and determine the feasibility of Hollywood Cityhood and allow the people of Hollywood and Los Angeles the opportunity to vote on the question of forming a new, independent City of Hollywood."

Meanwhile, many anti-secessionists say part of their frustration comes from the fact that Hollywood has improved lately. They cite new projects such as the Hollywood & Highland shopping center and the energy of their City Council members--La Bonge and Eric Garcetti.

HALO was formed by a group of Hollywood residents who met while trying to launch a neighborhood council--a key innovation of the city's charter reform. The neighborhood councils are still in a nascent state, with many yet to be certified by the city. HALO members say they are enthusiastic about their council's potential.

They also say they are worried that if Hollywood secedes, their voices will not be heard in the new city. One problem, they say, is that the Nov. 5 ballot includes a contest for five Hollywood city council members who would take office if secession wins.

"I am opposing the whole idea of secession, so how can I run for the Hollywood city council just in case? It wouldn't look right, and it doesn't make sense," said HALO member David Schlesinger, who has lived in the Hollywood Hills since 1939.

La Pietra says the growing debate in Hollywood is healthy. As for the complaints, he said: "The opposition is looking for something in the past. We've gone beyond all that. We're on the ballot. If anybody's unhappy, they'll be able to express themselves at the polls on the 5th of November."

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