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THE TIMES POLL

Secession Trails in the Valley for First Time

Across the city, the breakaway movements, including the one in Hollywood, are overwhelmingly opposed by voters.

October 16, 2002|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly oppose breaking up the city and, for the first time, the idea trails in the San Fernando Valley, birthplace of the secessionist movement, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

Opposition appears particularly keen in the East Valley, home to a greater proportion of Latinos, Democrats and poorer residents than the rest of the area. Voters in the West Valley, a more conservative constituency that was behind the six-year campaign to thrust secession into the voting booth, are now closely divided on the question.

A parallel drive for Hollywood independence also is faring badly, the poll indicated. Voters in all parts of the city said they strongly oppose lopping Hollywood off from the rest of L.A.

Citywide, Valley secession is opposed by majorities of whites, Latinos and blacks. Most men oppose it, as do most women. Self-described liberals, moderates and conservatives all said they favored keeping Los Angeles whole. Majorities of Democrats and independents said they oppose Valley secession, while Republicans split evenly for and against the Valley's quest for independence.

Compared to other poll results, the new findings suggest that secession support has faded considerably in recent months.

The new survey found that 56% of likely Los Angeles voters said they oppose Valley secession, while 27% said they favor it, with the remaining 17% undecided. Outside the Valley, 62% of respondents said they oppose letting the Valley go its own way; 18% support it and 20% were undecided.

Likely Valley voters were leaning against the measure, 47% to 42%, a gap that falls within the poll's margin of error. Eleven percent of Valley voters said they have yet to make up their minds. Among registered voters in the Valley, the proposal was behind by six points.

Hollywood secession is even less popular. Sixty percent of likely voters citywide said they oppose that area's bid for independence, compared to just 21% of likely voters favoring it.

The poll, supervised by Times Poll director Susan Pinkus, was conducted by telephone from Oct. 5 to Oct. 14. It surveyed 1,546 registered voters citywide, of whom 970 were likely voters. For responses based on likely voters, the poll has a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points in either direction. The survey included 464 likely Valley voters with a 5-percentage-point margin of sampling error.

Among registered voters -- a broader group than likely voters -- support for secession has fallen steadily in recent months. In June, Valley voters supported secession by a 15-point margin, though it trailed citywide by 9 points. Today, secession is losing citywide among registered voters by 32 points and trailing among voters in the Valley by 6 points.

In the Valley, support for secession has dropped particularly among the elderly, Latinos and less-affluent voters.

Under state law, the cityhood measures must carry a majority not only within the breakaway area but also in the entire city.

Mayor James K. Hahn's $5-million L.A. United campaign and a slew of other anti-secession groups are increasingly targeting Valley renters, senior citizens, Latinos and union members with mailers and phone calls, hoping to find fertile ground for the message that cityhood is "too risky."

The poll showed that support for secession both citywide and in the Valley dipped on Oct. 8, the fourth day of polling and the first day Hahn's campaign began airing television spots depicting a spinning roulette wheel and a warning: "Secession is a gamble that's not worth taking." The percentage of voters favoring a split has since recovered slightly.

Aversion to secession, moreover, appears to be taking root with precisely the Valley voters targeted by the mayor's campaign. In the Valley, nearly two-thirds of those with annual household incomes under $40,000 -- a group likely to include many renters -- oppose Valley cityhood.

Senior citizens also are leaning against the measure. Fifty-five percent of Valley voters 65 or older oppose secession, while 32% support it.

"Where's the money coming from to finance this new city?" poll respondent Evelyn Burmester, a 76-year-old retired shoe saleswoman from West Hills, asked in a follow-up interview. "We're going to have to pay Los Angeles money each year," she said, adding that she lives on a fixed income.

All told, 54% of likely voters in the East Valley oppose Valley cityhood and 36% favor it. The margin is much tighter in the West Valley, where 42% oppose secession and 46% support it, a split within the poll's margin of error.

While Valley secession is struggling, some of the arguments against it did not register significantly with many poll respondents. A majority of voters citywide and in the Valley said, for instance, that the possibility that a new city might abolish Los Angeles' living-wage ordinance would not affect their vote. Opposition by the city's employee unions did not affect many voters either.

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