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Secession, Spending, 'Living Wage' Among Ballot Issues

October 27, 2002|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles voters face a historic choice Nov. 5: whether to break apart the nation's second-largest city and create an independent San Fernando Valley and Hollywood.

Residents throughout Los Angeles County, meanwhile, will be asked to decide the fate of several measures seeking millions of dollars for an array of educational, cultural and medical institutions.

Measure A would fund safety upgrades at aging county museums; another proposal, Measure B, would help maintain the county's troubled network of hospital emergency rooms. To pass, both proposals need approval by two-thirds of county voters.

Measure K, a $3.3-billion construction bond, would help the swelling Los Angeles Unified School District build new schools and renovate old ones. It requires a 55% majority vote.

And in Santa Monica, voters will weigh in on a ballot initiative to increase the pay for employees who work primarily for luxury hotels along the beach. The so-called living wage ordinance is being closely watched nationwide because it would be the first of its kind to regulate wages paid by private employers who are not operating on city property or under city contract.

In the Valley, secessionists struggled for six years to push what became Measure F onto the ballot. Their unlikely campaign overcame many hurdles -- changing state law to allow citywide secession votes and collecting thousands of signatures to force a $2-million study of the breakup's financial impact -- but the biggest obstacle lies ahead.

To win, secessionists need to claim a majority of voters citywide and in the Valley. A recent Times poll shows that Los Angeles' likely voters oppose a breakup by 2 to 1. The secession proposal was trailing even in the Valley, 47% to 42%, a gap within the poll's margin of error.

Hollywood secession has also failed to attract widespread support, according to the poll. Only 21% of likely voters citywide favor Measure H, while 60% oppose it. "Most of us feel that it's going down to defeat ... but the issue is not going to go away," said Jaime Regalado, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.

"The fact that there has been a pro-secession campaign, even though it hasn't been very well run, nevertheless created a new level of respect," he said. Secessionists "have made a credible case that there has been a disconnect between a good part of some communities and the structure of their government."

If approved by voters, the new Valley city would be born July 1. With 1.35 million people and 222 square miles, it would be bigger than Phoenix, San Diego and Dallas.

The Valley would be governed by an elected mayor and 14 council members. Voters who live in the Valley will be asked to choose those leaders as well as a new name for the proposed city.

For at least its first year of independence, the Valley would remain closely bound to the city it left, relying on Los Angeles for virtually every municipal service. The Valley city would have a $1.2-million budget -- and most of it would go to paying L.A. for police and fire protection, garbage pickup, park maintenance and other services.

Eventually, however, the fledgling city could set up its own departments or contract with Los Angeles County or private vendors to provide services.

Fiscal Impact of a Split

Because state law requires that municipal breakups be "revenue neutral" -- in other words, they can't financially harm either the new city or the one left behind -- the Local Agency Formation Commission had to calculate secession's fiscal impact.

LAFCO found that Los Angeles collects $127.1 million more from Valley taxpayers each year than it gives back in city services, bolstering secessionists' belief that the Valley isn't getting its fair share.

The remedy, however, would be for the Valley to pay that amount to Los Angeles after a breakup to compensate L.A. for the loss. The so-called alimony payment would drop 5% annually over 20 years.

The Valley city would keep all police stations, libraries and other assets within its boundaries. LAFCO also decided that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power would provide utilities to the Valley at the same rates it charges L.A. customers. But Los Angeles officials argue that LAFCO doesn't have the authority to enforce such a mandate and suggest that the matter could wind up in court.

Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city, would lose a third of its residents and nearly half its land in the breakup to become the third-largest city, behind New York and Chicago.

The city would have to redraw its council districts and hold new elections. But since Los Angeles would retain control of its water and power systems, airports and other assets, most residents would probably detect few immediate changes.

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