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Counting on Airport Ire for Votes

Election: Proponents of Valley and Hollywood independence are hoping the city's coastal residents, angry over management of LAX, will support breakup.


Every few minutes, another airplane slices through the Westchester sky. Twenty miles away, secessionists in the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood are counting on those jets, buzzing into Los Angeles International Airport like angry bumblebees, to help carry them to victory in November.

Some Westchester residents are so upset about the city's management of LAX, the theory goes, that they will turn out in droves to vote for a municipal breakup.

Separatists say the airport's noise, pollution and potential expansion aren't the only aggravations they can tap in Los Angeles' coastal communities. There's also the controversial Playa Vista development near the Ballona wetlands, not to mention the City Council's recent decision to move the 6th District, which included parts of Westchester and Venice, to the East Valley. That deprived residents of their longtime councilwoman, Ruth Galanter.

"There's a great deal of support for letting the Valley and Hollywood secede," said Rex Frankel, a Westchester environmentalist who has fought Playa Vista and the city's airport expansion plans. "In a smaller city, the people who live here would have a greater ability to protect their community from overdevelopment and pollution."

Frankel predicted that many coastal residents--linked through environmental and homeowner groups--will vote to break up Los Angeles in the Nov. 5 election, in part out of self-interest. He said secession advocates in the area plan to form a political action committee to raise money for a campaign of block parties and coffee klatches.

Other activists along the city's shoreline, however, worry that rent control and protections for low-wage workers could wilt if the city splits. Lacking guarantees that such laws would be preserved, some have resolved to oppose secession.

On the streets of Westchester and Venice, the breakup question elicited a wide range of responses, at least among those who were aware that secession is on the ballot.

Some--particularly in the artsy enclaves of Venice--had a live-and-let-live attitude.

"I'd vote for it, I guess," said Robert Karron, 33, a stay-at-home dad walking his shaggy dog along a side street off Abbot Kinney Boulevard. "I mean, if they really want to leave, why shouldn't they be able to? That seems fair."

Inside Abbot's Habit coffee shop, a corner hangout decorated with plaid tablecloths and psychedelic art, Jason Dzubak took the opposite view. A fund-raiser for nonprofit groups who grew up in Venice, Dzubak, 31, said Valley secession would be anything but fair.

"I think it would be great for the Valley, but it would hurt the rest of the city," he said. "There's a lot of dough from the Valley that goes to our social service programs. That's a big chunk of money that's going to be gone."

Though still touched by poverty and gang violence, Venice has been swept by a wave of gentrification that has transformed dirt lots into artists' lofts and driven rents and home prices through the roof.

The median home price here is now $625,000, making Venice's cozy beach bungalows the most expensive properties per square foot in Los Angeles County, after a slice of Santa Monica. Trendy boutiques catering to wealthy hipsters have sprouted along Abbot Kinney, offering jars of bath salts for $23 and faded corduroy jeans for $118 a pair.

Concerned about the evaporation of affordable housing, some progressive activists are opposed to secession for fear that a new Valley or Hollywood city might erode renters' rights. Secessionists have asked candidates for office in the proposed cities to sign pledges to adopt rent control, which most have done.

But after much soul-searching, Venice housing advocate Sheila Bernard decided the pledges aren't enough. Once a firm supporter of secession, Bernard recently changed her mind.

"I have very mixed feelings on this issue, because I support smaller cities," she said with a deep sigh. "But I believe renters' rights should take precedence over separating the city. Even though people signed that pledge ... there aren't any candidates who have strong track records on this. They have nothing that anyone can trust."

A few miles away in Westchester, where beachgoers in sunglasses give way to cars chugging along boulevards lined with big-box stores, several residents expressed surprise that secessionists are counting on them--and their supposed anger at the city--to fuel a breakup.

Airport noise? "You get accustomed to it," said Pat Banas, 76, with a dismissive wave of the hand. For 30 years, the white-haired woman has owned a flower shop in Westchester and lived in Playa del Rey near an LAX runway.

She blames airport pollution for particulate matter found in her lungs, but she said secession will not solve her community's problems. She is voting against it.

"I personally feel that most of the people in the Valley don't get the representation that they should have. But then, we don't either," she said. "All these little areas need a stronger voice."

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