Hours after their hopes of forging a separate city from Los Angeles died at the polls, San Fernando Valley secessionists grasped onto a silver lining Wednesday in the slender margin of yes votes cast by Valley voters.
Los Angeles voters rejected both Valley and Hollywood breakup proposals by resounding margins in Tuesday's election. But in the Valley, the secession movement's birthplace and enduring stronghold, voters were almost evenly split.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 09, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 315 words Type of Material: Correction
Valley secession -- A map in the Thursday California section showing the vote on San Fernando Valley secession incorrectly used a calculation based on the total ballots cast in each precinct, rather than ballots cast on the secession measure. The overall pattern shown on the published map is correct, but in a few parts of the East Valley and the Westside, the calculation error resulted in precincts being placed in the wrong category. A corrected map can be viewed on the Times' Web site at http://www.latimes.com/secession.
With all precincts reporting, the secession proposal was hugging a narrow lead -- 50.77% to 49.23% -- in the Valley. The difference is 3,760 votes, according to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder.
About 31,500 absentee and provisional ballots from the Valley remain to be counted. To alter the Valley outcome, about 56% of the outstanding ballots would have to go against secession.
The breakup plan carried the Valley in Tuesday's returns even though it lost in three of the region's five council districts -- the 2nd, 6th and 7th, all in the East Valley, according to a breakdown released by the county. The vote totals against secession in the three districts ranged from 53.7% to 57.6%
Secession leaders had predicted they would get broad support in the East Valley.
The strongest opposition to secession was in South-Central Los Angeles. In the 8th Council District there, 89.8% of voters cast ballots against secession. More than 82% of the voters in the two East Los Angeles council districts also opposed secession.
Valley secession leader Jeff Brain said he was not surprised by those results because unions and council members focused heavily on persuading Latino and African American voters there to oppose the breakup.
"Without money to educate people there, what they said stuck," Brain said.
Secession did best in the West Valley, the birthplace of the movement.
In the northwest Valley's 12th Council District, which includes Northridge, Granada Hills and Chatsworth, 61% of voters supported secession, the largest percentage citywide. Hal Bernson represents the district.
The southwest Valley's 3rd District, represented by Dennis Zine, posted the second-highest return for secession -- 56.8%.
Meanwhile, the council districts that include San Pedro, which is also proposing secession, and Hollywood voted against the breakup.
The win in the Valley is a hollow victory at best: Under California law, secessions must pass citywide. But the split decision somewhat strengthens the political hand of separatists who have long argued that City Hall neglects the Valley while sponging up its tax dollars.
As the day after the election dawned clear and sunny over the Valley, secession leaders hailed the Valley vote as evidence that their grass-roots campaign -- or at least, its central goal of siphoning power away from City Hall -- was still alive.
"We were outspent, outgunned, outnumbered," said Laurette Healey, a co-chair of the San Fernando Valley Independence Committee. "We came to the people with a simple truth, the truth of bringing government closer to the people who live here.... The idea of local control will resonate for a very, very long time."
In a sign that City Hall is absorbing the message, Council President Alex Padilla and other Valley council members plan to meet today with secession leaders to explore ways to devolve power across the city's far-flung neighborhoods.
Looking bleary-eyed but cheerful, a cluster of Valley secessionists returned Wednesday morning to the same Sherman Oaks hotel where they had watched their dream of a new city die the night before.
Flanked by several of the would-be council members elected to represent the Valley had cityhood passed, leaders of the six-year breakaway movement vowed to keep up the pressure for local control.
"This is more than a government in exile," said secession leader Richard Katz. "Given the unprecedented nature of the opposition we faced, the victory in the Valley is significant.... The burden now shifts to the city. We have made our case for reform."
Voter turnout in the Valley was higher than in other parts of Los Angeles, but not by much. Citywide, 38.6% of voters cast ballots Tuesday, while in the Valley the figure was 43.5%. The Valley typically has a higher turnout than the rest of the city.
Mayor James K. Hahn and other breakup opponents spent $7 million to squash secession in its own backyard. Separatists took comfort in their slim Valley victory, saying that the Valley's demand for more efficient, responsive government could not be denied.
What remains to be seen, breakup proponents said, is just what shape new reform efforts may take. A borough system, neighborhood councils with enhanced power, or another secession movement were all mentioned as possibilities.
Richard Close, chairman of the secession group Valley VOTE, said cityhood advocates were still exploring their options.