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Secession Supporters Confront Hahn at Fair

Activists accuse mayor of lying. He tells 2,000 seniors small cities can't match L.A. services.

October 27, 2002|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Just 10 days before the election, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn was dogged at a city fair for seniors Saturday by a dozen sign-carrying secession supporters who said he had lied about the potential harm of a split.

Hahn took his anti-secession campaign to an Encino park, where he told 2,000 senior citizens at the city-sponsored fair that Los Angeles is able to provide many services to them that smaller cities cannot afford.

Secessionists followed the mayor around the event and objected to the use of taxpayers' money to pay for a fair where city officials spoke against secession.

"It's an absolute misuse of taxpayers' money but it's consistent with what the mayor has been doing all along in using taxes for his anti-secession effort," said Frank Sheftel, who is running for a city council seat in the proposed San Fernando Valley city.

At one point, secessionists holding a banner shouted at city workers who tried to move them away from a stage where Hahn was speaking.

"It's public property," they said, until the city workers left them alone. Police took an incident report from one secession leader who said he had been manhandled by city workers.

The secession supporters carried their signs and banner all around Hahn as he led senior citizens on a one-mile walk around Balboa Lake.

The city spent $40,000 on the Senior/Caregiver Fair and Health Festival in Lake Balboa Park, using 29 buses to bring in elderly residents from all over Los Angeles.

With some campaign officials predicting low voter turnout on Nov. 5, secession supporters and opponents alike predicted that senior citizens, who tend to turn out in larger numbers in elections than younger voters, would play a key role.

Hahn said the event was meant to educate senior citizens about the great services provided by the city, not to campaign against secession.

But before Hahn spoke, his campaign workers passed out a flier warning seniors that they could lose rent control and low-cost lunch programs if cityhood measures for Hollywood and San Fernando Valley are passed.

Valley VOTE's president, Jeff Brain, later said his group would file a complaint with the city Ethics Commission and the Los Angeles County district attorney, alleging the use of public resources for political purposes.

Former U.S. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, who introduced Hahn, told the audience that "secession is a very risky business" that could hurt seniors financially.

"There would be a major shortage of funds that could result in an increase in taxes and a decrease in services or both," Fiedler said. "A cash-strapped San Fernando Valley would not likely have additional money to subsidize the Meals on Wheels program."

Hahn did not mention secession by name in his speech, but told of a Malibu resident who said he had moved to Los Angeles for seniors' services not available in his own city.

"We provide programs to people that many other cities don't," Hahn said. "We are able to do that because we are a great city."

In an interview before the speech, Hahn said splitting Los Angeles into three cities could force a cutback in specialized programs now offered to senior citizens.

"If we all have less money to spend, those might be the kinds of things people say we can't afford," Hahn said.

City Councilman Dennis Zine interrupted his own speech on the greatness of Los Angeles and pointed to a secession supporter holding a sign in the back of the audience. "Every time you've got a wonderful party, you've got a party pooper, and there's the party pooper right there," he said.

Seniors at the event seemed divided over secession. Ruth Smith walked with the mayor and shook her head at the pro-secession signs all around her.

"I love this city. Why in the hell would anybody try to pull it apart?" the retired teacher asked. "I live in Valley Village in a wonderful neighborhood and it's not in dire neglect."

Nancy Southwell of Sherman Oaks scoffed at the mayor's warnings of the negative effects on senior programs.

"I don't believe a word of it," she said, adding that secession is about localizing government and decision-making. "If our government is not so big, our taxes will be spent better."

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