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Secession Would Harm the Needy, New Report Says

Economics: Poor would lose services, according to anti-poverty group. Advocates reply: 'Status quo is not working.'

October 05, 2002|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Breaking up Los Angeles could profoundly hurt low-income residents and workers by depriving them of laws and programs that protect them, according to a study released Friday by an anti-poverty group.

The study, conducted by the nonprofit Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy in collaboration with the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, concluded that the secession of Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley would hurt the poor in many ways at a time when poverty is deepening across Los Angeles. Median household income fell 9% citywide during the 1990s, the report noted, and a greater proportion of residents fell below the federal poverty line.

Secession supporters countered that growing poverty is one more argument for a breakaway. Noting that poverty soared 56% in the Valley over the last decade--almost double the citywide rate--Laurette Healey, co-chairwoman of the Valley Independence Campaign, said: "The status quo is not working."

"This verifies our contention that an independent Valley city will be more accountable to its residents, providing better services for the poor to turn this trend around," she said in a statement. "The status quo may be good enough for the downtown power brokers and politicians, but it certainly isn't helping poor people in L.A."

Funded by a grant from Kaiser Permanente, the report drew on census data, various secession studies and a review of city laws and programs. Many of the officials it relied upon for information, however, are outspoken anti-secessionists, including Mayor James K. Hahn and union leader Julie Butcher.

"The report stands on its own," said Jessica Goodheart, co-director of research at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. "We went to the information sources that we thought would help us. Obviously, the city of Los Angeles is going to have an opinion, but I think people should look at the merits of the arguments in the study."

The proposed cities would have substantial populations of low-income people, according to the study. It says that about 15.2% of Valley residents and 25.8% of Hollywood residents live below the federal poverty line.

Titled "Left Behind," the 35-page report said secession could destroy years of progressive public policy in Los Angeles, including rent control, the living wage ordinance, equal benefits for domestic partners of city workers and protections for renters living in dilapidated apartment units.

The new cities would retain Los Angeles' ordinances for 120 days, but then they would have to adopt their own laws. There are no guarantees that they would keep protections for low-income people, the study said, and there might be legal obstacles to doing so.

That's because the new cities would, for lack of city charters passed by voters, be general-law cities, at least in their early years. They would be bound by state law to numerous restrictions governing public contracts, zoning systems, finances and housing codes.

Hollywood and the Valley could eventually adopt charters, but the process is likely to be complex. Amending the Los Angeles charter took three years.

"Without ... the flexibility that charter cities exercise, the new city governments face significant legal obstacles in their efforts to fight poverty," the study said.

The report also found that secession could jeopardize the jobs of city employees, especially those at the low end of the pay scale, and that it would fracture regional decision-making, leaving in the lurch those who are most in need of public resources.

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