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It Takes a Village to Create a Secession

Cityhood decision rests on people's feelings about their community.

October 17, 2002|Robert White | Robert White, a television writer whose programs included "My Favorite Martian," is co-author of "Hollywood & the Best of Los Angeles Alive!" released in July by Hunter Publishing.

You can often find "Dr. John" outside the Venice post office. It's hard to miss the tall, lean man with bright blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, white beard and startling red beret.

Prominent also is his "Cityhood for Venice!" petition awaiting signers.

Venice was an independent city until it was annexed to Los Angeles in 1925. A movement to secede started that same year and has been pursued off and on ever since.

My late wife, Phyllis, and I wrote a book about Los Angeles' century-long affair with the movies. The chapters trace geographic entities: Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City.

While doing research, chatting with people about their communities, we found that the bond between the citizen and his or her immediate area was strong when the boundaries were sharp and easily defined -- take, for instance, Santa Monica -- and weak to nonexistent when boundaries were vague and had no historical reality; regard West Los Angeles.

The San Fernando Valley has both a strong history as a place and definite boundaries. This is where William Mulholland brought water from the Owens Valley in 1913, which quickly changed the Valley from a semidesert to a bountiful agricultural area. And after World War II, all the groves were just as abruptly replaced by vast tracts of veterans' housing.

As to the boundaries, just look around at the mountains on every side.

Hollywood's borders, on the other hand, are not definite at all. Everyone has a different perception; the secessionists' map is a compromise.

However, the idea of Hollywood as a place is so embedded in everyone's consciousness that the little portion that is trying to secede -- with its population of 180,000 -- is better known around the world than is big Los Angeles, with its population of 3.7 million.

Oddly, lines drawn on maps are hardly mentioned in the arguments over secession.

The civic separatists always say that smaller cities put citizens closer to their leaders and deliver better, more efficient services.

They add that those people living below the poverty line are becoming worse off in Los Angeles and would do better in a smaller city.

Those against carving painful pieces out of our Southland megalopolis cite the pride of being part of a city large enough to wield clout in Washington and say that rent control, a living-wage ordinance and equal benefits for domestic partners may be lost and that those living under the poverty line would be worse off.

Few people mention a feeling that could trump all the arguments about economics: How strong is the bond between the voter and his neighborhood or village or city?

Despite the polls, no one really knows whether those in the Valley and Hollywood will be better off or less well off if they break away. But there is a potential poll that would give a strong indication. Simply ask those who live in the other 87 cities in Los Angeles County how they are doing.

Inquire of residents of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena: Would you vote to abolish your city and become part of Los Angeles?

If you find anyone who answers with a "yes," let me know.

Meanwhile, Dr. John's petition has 4,000 signatures; 1,000 more are needed to put cityhood for Venice on a ballot.

I have a feeling we're going to go through this again.

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