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Secession: A Tale of New Cities

There's no plot, just government reorganization.

October 03, 2002|JOEL FOX | Joel Fox is past president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and an advisor to the San Fernando Valley cityhood effort.

Ballot measures allowing Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley to break away from Los Angeles have stirred colorful analogies to bygone periods from our history.

Some use the term "secession" and conjure up pictures of 140-year-old battlefields. Others talk about "independence" from "King James" Hahn in the same fervent tones as did the patriots of 1776.

The unglamorous truth is that the breakup of Los Angeles is neither a rebellious secession nor a revolution dethroning a king.

Measures F (the Valley city measure) and H (the Hollywood city measure) amount to a reorganization of government.

Reorganizing government to make it more responsive to citizens' needs is a time-honored tradition. States call constitutional conventions. On the national level, ground-shifting elections put Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan in power to change the course of government.

And creating new cities is hardly new.

Since 1886, a new city has been created in Los Angeles County on the average of once every 1.3 years.

It's true that this breakup is different because the new cities are not being taken out of unincorporated county land, as most previous city incorporations did. The contentious split of a standing city hasn't occurred in California since Coronado pulled away from San Diego in 1890.

But the reasoning is the same: to make government more responsive and accountable to its citizens.

In the process, the reorganization also gives these same benefits to those remaining in Los Angeles by, for example, shrinking the number of constituents a City Council member must serve by about half.

Reorganization doesn't lead to cultural changes, as rebellion and revolution might. Even if they break away, people in the Valley and Hollywood still will root for the Lakers, just as the people of Los Angeles did when the Lakers played in Inglewood.

The idea of reorganizing government is not going away no matter what happens in November.

Supporters of self-governing boroughs within the city, suggested as a way to prevent the cityhood drives, say they will pursue that idea if the breakup fails.

And the Los Angeles Unified School District has been ripe for reorganization for years. If the cityhood drives are successful, efforts will intensify to break the district into smaller parts.

Regional problems that extend beyond city boundaries may be solved with new governmental approaches. Policy experts talk about the counties being geographic relics and suggest that reorganization of counties will help improve service delivery over regions. Some sort of regional government may be offered to voters.

What kind of governmental reorganizations voters want remains to be seen. But when people decide that a government is not meeting their needs, they will change it, just as they change their personal lives. Some move to a new location, some seek a new job and, yes, some even get a divorce.

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