Of course Shannen Martin wants the San Fernando Valley to succeed.
"Why wouldn't I want where I live to be a successful city?" said the 34-year-old, her brows knitted in perplexity. "I only want the best."
Martin had misunderstood the question. Did she want the Valley to secede? As in split from Los Angeles? The biggest municipal divorce in U.S. history?
"Oh," said Martin, a Chicago transplant, laughing and dismissing the mix-up with a wave of her diamond-studded hand. "I don't know. I don't really know much about it."
In the shadow of the Valley VOTE office in a Sherman Oaks strip mall--the secessionist headquarters--confusion about the breakaway proposal reigned. News spread that secession had been placed on the Nov. 5 ballot, but the folks sipping coffee, eating bagels and people watching in the plaza below Valley VOTE's second-story roost were fuzzy on the details.
They wondered if they already had their own mayor (someone other than James K. Hahn), where their boundaries were (Thousand Oaks?), and what exactly this LAFCO was.
"Isn't it a comedy store in Hollywood?" asked Shahrad Farhoudi, an unemployed 21-year-old.
Actually, it's the Local Agency Formation Commission, which placed the secession measure on the ballot Wednesday. The panel is considering similar proposals for Hollywood and the harbor area.
The blank stares and shoulder shrugs that greet queries about secession come as no surprise to city officials and breakup advocates.
"Is there a lot of confusion? Absolutely," said Kam Kuwata, political strategist for the mayor's anti-secession campaign.
"For the next 51/2 months, there will be a lot of discussions about secession," said Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE. "There will be less confusion."
The folks milling around Valley VOTE's cluttered digs wanted answers on the basics--how a separation may affect city services, crime, the local economy and taxes. However, they also sought clarity on other tough issues surrounding the split.
"Why would anyone want to call this place Camelot?" asked Farhoudi. Camelot is one of five choices on the ballot for a Valley city name.
"I'll move to Los Angeles," said Farhoudi, reading a newspaper in the plaza. Traffic inched by on Ventura Boulevard, as horns blared and jaywalkers strolled across the lanes. "There's no way I can live in a place called Camelot."
Jeff Brain, president of Valley VOTE, pushed to get the Camelot selection on the ballot. Brain is a customer of Linda Devars, who owns a flower kiosk.
"I see him every day," said Devars, a longtime Sherman Oaks resident.
She primped her sunflowers, white irises and summer lilac. She twisted a strand of her dark hair around her finger and tilted her head.
"What is it he does?" she asked.
Devars said she knows little about secession and isn't looking forward to a five-month campaign.
"Just let things be the way they are," Devars said. "Things would be easier."
Apathy toward complicated issues is common, said John Shallman, a political strategist who advises Los Angeles Councilwoman Wendy Greuel. Earlier this month, Greuel proposed a New York-style borough system as a secession alternative.
"The public doesn't know who to trust on the complex political issues," Shallman said.
Secession doesn't grab Aron Cowen, who lives in Sherman Oaks. "So much of the Valley has a dirty vibe," the 27-year-old native said.
"I'd rather have nothing to do with Canoga Park or Chatsworth. There's too much porn and smog. ... It also has too many people with no teeth," said Cowen, a musician who was spending the morning in the plaza, slouched in baggy shorts and scribbling his musings on a pad of paper.
"People in the Valley create their own cities all the time," he said, citing Valley Village as an example. "So why should I care if the Valley doesn't want to be a part of Hollywood?"
Cowen was taken aback when told that the Valley, including the neighborhood of Valley Village, is part of Los Angeles. As is Hollywood.
Mike Davis, 52, is a Valley Village resident who enjoys chatting with other java junkies at the Starbucks next to Valley VOTE. The gray-bearded man reads several newspapers a day. He said he knows who Brain is.
"He's that guy with the big hair," Davis said.
He said he has also heard of LAFCO.
"He's some important guy," he said. "I've definitively heard of him. What does he do?"