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Claim Victory, Come Home

November 07, 2002

Voters citywide said Tuesday to keep Los Angeles united, defeating San Fernando Valley secession 2 to 1, and Hollywood secession by an even wider margin. Now it's time for secession advocates to accept that victory and get to work to make the city better.

Yes, victory. Even its critics, and this page has been a big one, credit the Valley secession movement with spurring reforms at City Hall. The momentum already generated by neighborhood councils isn't going to stop with Tuesday's vote, not with hundreds of ordinary Angelenos busily organizing to get the city's ear on traffic, graffiti and other neighborhood concerns.

As loath as secession leaders may be to admit it, their movement even energized Mayor James K. Hahn. With a temperament more languid than lively, Hahn got off to a lackluster start in office. Then the secession campaign gave him a focus, one he rightly made into not just defeating a breakup but giving residents a reason to stay.

The once-invisible mayor was suddenly everywhere, especially in the Valley. Got a pothole? A buckled sidewalk? An untrimmed tree? Hahn would all but show up himself, toolbox in hand.

By election day, the strait-laced mayor was singing "I Love L.A." and twirling his sister, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, in an impromptu jitterbug. (OK, maybe he's getting a little too relaxed.) The trick, of course, will be to keep working to make the city -- on both sides of Mulholland Drive -- a better place to live.

The mayor and City Council members were back in the Valley the day after the election pledging just that, and we urge them to be bold in carrying out that promise. But making the city work isn't the job of just its elected leaders. In reforming its antiquated charter to create the grass-roots councils and regional planning boards, the city gave residents a template to get things done in their neighborhoods. But it's like voting -- you have to get up and do it.

Unfortunately, some secession leaders have already declared that they won't work with this mayor or give up trying to break up this city. Forget that Hollywood secession, a last-minute effort bankrolled by a nightclub owner who wanted to be mayor, lost overwhelmingly even within the proposed new city's borders. Never mind that Valley secession, promoted for decades, barely eked out a majority in the Valley itself, winning 50.77% of votes there and only 33% citywide. Secession leaders say they will ask a court to throw out the citywide votes or will launch a statewide initiative.

Rejecting the very thing they said they wanted -- a vote of the people -- is typical of a movement that has continually spurned the reforms it spurred.

Secession leaders first backed, then dismissed neighborhood councils without giving them a chance -- in a huff over the reform commission's decision to make the councils advisory only. They supported a change in state law eliminating the City Council's veto power over secession in exchange for requiring a citywide vote -- until they lost that vote. Now some of them want the Legislature to change the law again.

Government is the art of consensus and compromise. Secession is about storming out of the room when things don't go exactly your way. No one's calling for holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" -- just rolling up sleeves and working together as one city.

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