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Secessionists Ponder Life After Election Day

Some Hollywood and Valley candidates say they'll mend fences with L.A. if breakup loses.

November 04, 2002|Sharon Bernstein | Times Staff Writer

With the election just one day away, some proponents of San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession are laying the groundwork for life after Nov. 5 -- whether or not the ballot measures pass.

If secession wins, backers will be busy setting up their new cities. The winners of secession offices -- there are 122 hopefuls for 20 positions in the two areas -- will be preparing to take their places as city council members and, in the Valley's case, mayor. But what happens to secessionists if the proposals, measures F and H on Tuesday's ballot, lose?

Some vow to fight again, saying they'll bring forward future secession proposals or take their case to the courts.

But many are building bridges to the City Hall with which they had hoped to cut ties, planning quietly to invite campaign foes to post-election meetings to make amends. Others are seeking to further new political alliances developed as part of the cityhood campaigns.

Laurette Healey, co-chairwoman of the San Fernando Valley Independence Committee, is urging fellow activists to position themselves now for the possibility that secession could lose, so that the issues raised in the campaign for smaller, more responsive government remain alive after Election Day.

"I don't want to see the baby thrown out with the bath water," Healey said. "These issues must prevail beyond the election, regardless of whether an independent city is formed."

Mel Wilson, who is running for mayor of the proposed Valley city, said that, if the cityhood effort fails, he will continue to push its broader agenda as part of a new group, made up mostly of business leaders, called Alliance for a New Los Angeles.

"I have not been one to be hostile to the mayor," Wilson said. "I've not been calling people bloated and bureaucratic and all that

One way secessionists in both Hollywood and the Valley hope that their issues -- and for some, their political careers -- will survive a possible loss Nov. 5 is through coalitions formed during the breakaway effort.

"The power structure within this town has shifted," said Ferris Wehbe, the chief petitioner for the Hollywood secession effort. "We have new folks that are involved, and they are going to be listened to."

New alliances abound among secession proponents, said a former Assemblywoman and Valley city council candidate, Paula Boland, who plans to run for a Los Angeles City Council seat if secession fails.

"It has crossed party lines and socioeconomic lines," said Boland, who, if secession fails, will seek the 12th District seat being vacated by Councilman Hal Bernson next spring.

Members of several alliances of candidates, including Valley Liberals, Valley Women and United Valley Candidates, said their organizations would continue as activist groups after the election.

Scott Svonkin, one of the few Valley city council candidates with significant financial backing and endorsements from elected officials, said his goal if secession loses is to be the top vote-getter in his district, which includes Studio City and Sherman Oaks.

If he does finish first, Svonkin hopes that city officials and local activists will view him as a leader in his community and he will be well positioned for a possible future political run.

Svonkin is not the only one vying for a place in what some have jokingly termed the Valley's "government-in-exile" -- to be made up of the top vote-getters in the 14 council districts and the Valley mayor's race, assuming secession loses and the offices thus fail to exist.

Keith Richman, a Northridge Republican, is running for mayor and reelection to the state Assembly at the same time. If he becomes the Valley's mayor-in-exile, Richman, who has greater name recognition than his competitors, says he plans to continue to pursue a role as a regional leader.

"Whether a Valley city comes about or doesn't come about, we are still going to need to work together for a better quality of life for the residents of our area," Richman said.

It is difficult to tell, however, how accommodating secession opponents will be if the measure fails. City Council members, particularly those who represent the Valley, Hollywood and even the harbor area, where a secession proposal is still under evaluation, have said that they would include secessionists in future endeavors and continue to address the issues that breakaway proponents have raised.

"We really have an obligation to improve the way the city does business," said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who supports reorganizing L.A.'s government into boroughs to give neighborhoods more control over services.

Greuel, who represents the East Valley, said she would consider appointing secession proponents to city commissions.

It is less clear whether Mayor James K. Hahn will be friendly to the secessionists.

After the election, Hahn plans to invite secession supporters to participate in neighborhood councils, pitching the newly formed community groups as the best way to influence decisions at City Hall.

But that is a far cry from putting the movement's leaders on city commissions and inviting them to brainstorm about the city's future.

Beyond the question of victory itself, the vote tallies tomorrow might help determine how much sway City Hall feels obligated to give secession backers after the election.

To win, the proposals must attract majorities in both the secession regions as well as in the city at large.

Polls have shown a close race in the Valley. "Winning in the Valley is the only way to hold on to political capital" in the event of a loss, said Richard Katz, co-chairman of the San Fernando Valley Independence Committee. "We're still in the fight."

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