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The Valley

Hopefuls Aiming to Improve Services

Six from the mostly Latino, blue-collar 4th district seek voice on a Valley city council.

October 23, 2002|Nita Lelyveld | Times Staff Writer

When Rebecca Galvan first heard about San Fernando Valley secession a few years ago, the elementary school teacher didn't know how she felt about the idea. But as a lifelong Pacoima resident, she knew one thing:

"I figured that if this comes to pass, we need somebody Latino in our corner."

She took up the challenge herself as one of six candidates for the proposed Valley city's 4th council district, which will only exist if secession passes Nov. 5. The population of the district, which includes parts of Arleta, Pacoima, North Hollywood, Sun Valley and Panorama City, is more than three-quarters Latino.

Galvan, 44, said if she represented the area, she would push for better city services -- the central theme of 4th district campaigns -- from faster police response times to more frequent street paving.

Galvan, who over time has become a passionate secession advocate, teaches second grade at San Fernando Elementary School. In the independent city of San Fernando, which is not involved in the secession movement, she sees the sort of civic attention to detail missing in the rest of the northeast Valley. There, she said, streets get swept every week and the police arrive quickly when called.

"Pacoima, it's the Watts of the Valley, and everything gets dumped here," said Galvan, who still lives in the house where she grew up. "Every open space, things get dumped."

Complaining to Los Angeles city officials is useless "unless you know someone," she said.

Jose Bonilla, 50, former president of the Arleta Chamber of Commerce & Residents Assn., said 20 years of fighting graffiti, crime and other problems in Arleta make him qualified to represent the proposed district. The city neglects the northeast Valley because its blue-collar residents "don't pay the big campaign contributions," he said.

"Everybody has a right to be given the same level of service, regardless of what kind of money they make," said Bonilla, a computer company program director who briefly entered the Los Angeles City Council race won last year by Wendy Greuel. Bonilla dropped out after failing to collect enough valid petition signatures.

He said he has visited 8,900 households so far. He hears the same concerns everywhere -- about rutted streets, inadequate streetlights, streets that "become lakes when it rains" because of a lack of sewers.

"We have to live with no sidewalks," he said. "When it rains, our families have to walk through the mud. Give me a break here.

"We elect people to represent us and then they spend all their time downtown. They rarely put in a full day's work or a half a day's work or even an hour's work in the community. We need to be proactive."

Like other candidates, Bonilla said he is not raising money, just getting his message out through face-to-face discussions and homemade pamphlets.

Jose San Miguel, 59, a former machinist and a marathon runner, is walking and running door to door to get his message out. The 32-year resident of Pacoima said his neighbors have improved the area since he moved there by helping to reduce crime. "But there are actually no improvements from the city itself," he said.

An activist who worked to get bathrooms and more parking at the Hansen Dam Recreation Area, where he regularly runs, Miguel said residents are tired of bad schools, crumbling streets and a lack of police officers.

"Many other areas are much worse than this," he said. "But the leaders, they do not lead anymore. They do not help the people. One thing I can guarantee if I get this position: I will be walking the streets with my people every day."

Another candidate, Sam Sarkis Solakyan, 21, lives right on the edge of the proposed district, in North Hollywood. Some parts of the area seem abandoned by the city, said Solakyan, the owner of a medical transportation company who has lived in the Valley for about 10 years.

"It's very highly minority populated--Latinos, Armenians, people from Thailand. "They're doing the best they can, but there are streets where it's just pitch black, no light," he said. "Don't [officials] in the city ever drive around and see this?"

Solakyan also said he would focus on improving basic services. He believes his age would help him get young people involved in their community, steering them away from crime, he said.

His wants to create a Valleywide mentoring program that would pair youths with professionals, who could show them better options for their future.

William Godfrey Davis, 59, said his concern about young people is one reason he became a candidate.

Davis, a lawyer who lives in the Hansen Hills area, said the 4th district needs after-school programs that would keep teenagers out of gangs. "We're not getting our fair share of our tax dollars by way of services and attention," Davis said.

But Davis said he is not campaigning because he believes that, at least this time around, secession has no chance of passing and the 14-seat council will not exist.

"I do believe that this is a start and that it will build up the momentum," he said. "But nobody has poured the kind of money into secession as the Los Angeles community has poured into the fight against it."

Candidate John Maddalo, 49, a Sun Valley real estate broker, also has spoken out about poor services in the area. He plans to push to create an 800-number that people could call to report problems -- from a busted streetlight to a stray dog. The operator would forward the complaint to the appropriate council member, the department responsible for fixing the problem and the mayor, and follow-up would be swift, he said.

Maddalo said he believes both the Valley and Los Angeles would benefit from secession.

"They're dragging us down and we're dragging them down," he said.

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