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Secessionists Fear Gap in Leadership

Breakup: Richard Katz's work up to four days a week in Sacramento has some in Valley doubting his ability to guide the campaign. He says he is in touch electronically.

October 02, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The co-chair of the San Fernando Valley secession drive has been spending up to four days a week in Sacramento on state business, causing some breakup advocates to worry that their campaign lacks full-time leadership.

Richard Katz, in addition to his volunteer post on the Valley Independence Committee, serves on the State Water Resources Control Board and advises Gov. Gray Davis on energy issues.

Expense reports filed by Katz, with the board for June through August indicate he has been regularly flying to Sacramento on Monday mornings and returning on Thursday evenings.

Katz, who is paid $114,000 annually as a state water commissioner, said the weekly trips have not cost him essential time away from the secession campaign and he has no plans to curtail his Sacramento schedule.

"The nice thing about computers and cell phones is that you can work 24 hours a day wherever you are," Katz said. "I get done what I need to get done."

Katz, a former assemblyman, has the backup of campaign co-chairs Carlos Ferreyra and Laurette Healey, but is by far the most recognized and politically experienced of the three, secession supporters say.

"If I was running the campaign, I'd tell him to either spend more time here or replace him," said Bruce Boyer, a candidate for mayor of the proposed Valley city.

"It's not a good sign," said another mayoral candidate, Marc Strassman, who added that he has had trouble getting in touch with Katz by phone.

A candidate for Valley city council, who asked not to be named, said: "I'm very worried. It hurts when he is out of town that we don't have the central guidance. He is the only one who can stand up to the mayor articulately."

Last week, the secession effort lost its political consulting firm after the money-strapped campaign failed to pay its bills. It has also been without the guidance of Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, who is expected to return next Wednesday from a three-week European vacation.

Katz's August expense report indicates he spent 15 days in Sacramento that month, including Monday through Thursday the last three weeks of the month. In July, Katz spent 17 days in Sacramento. He has not yet filed his September report.

He said he is in constant communication with the campaign while he is away and noted there is a handful of paid staff members working on publicity and field operations.

Frank Sheftel, a Valley council candidate who recently formed a separate committee to promote the secession measure on the Nov. 5 ballot, said he understands that Katz has to earn a living.

"We certainly could use him here more. He is an excellent speaker," Sheftel said, "but he is guiding us from afar."

Meanwhile, a majority of the executive board of the NAACP's Valley chapter opposes secession, board members said Tuesday.

The chapter president, Zedar Broadous, has endorsed secession. Broadous said the chapter itself has not taken an official position.

Also Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Protective League released a new anti-secession television commercial that shows a group of police officers gradually fading from view as a narrator says, "Today Valley residents receive the protection of specially trained LAPD officers. And tomorrow? In times like these, secession may not be worth the risk. Let's stay united."

The ad replaced a commercial showing officers at the North Hollywood bank robbery shootout in 1997. The police union said it had rejected that ad when its media consultant presented it to them, although the spot aired on two stations.

Secessionists have accused the Protective League of fear-mongering in its campaign against a breakup.

They point out that the state commission that approved the secession measure for the ballot determined that a Valley city would be able to provide the same level of police service that the area receives today.

Mayoral candidate Mel Wilson, also on Tuesday, unveiled a Valley transportation plan that includes a light-rail system, more carpool lanes and incentives for ridesharing and telecommuting.

"It's a real simple solution to something people think is complex," said Wilson, a former member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.

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