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VICA Endorses Valley Secession

Breakup: Business group's support could help offset opposition from L.A. corporate leaders. Police union runs ads against the split.

September 25, 2002|SHARON BERNSTEIN and PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

An influential San Fernando Valley business organization on Tuesday cast its lot with the secession movement, arguing that leaders of a new Valley city would lower business taxes and spur economic growth.

The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., whose board includes several of secession's most ardent supporters, made its decision after a poll of members showed 57% in favor of secession, 11% opposed and 32% saying VICA should take no stand. The 50-year-old organization has 285 members, ranging from small merchants to large companies.

Balloting was secret, but VICA officials speculated that most of the organization's institutional members, such as schools, hospitals and public utilities, refrained from voting, or voted against taking a position.

The decision could provide a counterweight to the strong positions against secession taken by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations outside the Valley.

The VICA move came as the Los Angeles Police Protective League began a major radio advertising campaign against secession.

The ads assert that the Valley and Hollywood would get less policing at a higher cost if voters approve secession Nov. 5. The ads also contend that independence for the Valley and Hollywood would put public safety at risk.

"While gangs and illegal weapons threaten our safety, we might have to do without the officers and details who are expert at tracking down those kinds of criminals," a woman announcer says on one of the campaign's two radio spots.

Valley secession leaders denounced the radio ads as inaccurate.

They noted that the Local Agency Formation Commission, which approved the secession measures for the ballot, found that the Valley and Hollywood would be able to provide the same level of police service as Los Angeles does.

"It's scare tactics," Joel Fox, a secession campaign spokesman, said of the ads. He said the union's real concern is protecting its members' contracts, even though the secessionists have pledged to honor them.

The Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers, may spend up to $400,000 on its anti-secession campaign. It will target voters in the Valley and include phone banks, mailings and outreach to police officers.

The union has paid to run the radio commercials 338 times until the election. Ads on local broadcast and cable TV stations will begin running next week, union officials said.

Valley secession supporters said they are not ready to hit the air with their own ads, but the VICA endorsement could mean that some pro-cityhood advertising will begin soon.

Hollywood secessionists have started running ads on cable stations.

Scott Schmidt, VICA's government liaison, said the organization planned to purchase pro-secession advertisements in the Los Angeles Business Journal, and would consider contributing financially to the campaign.

VICA Chairman Fred Gaines said he expected secessionists to keep their promises to cut business taxes, a move that would improve the business climate in the Valley and force Los Angeles to lower its taxes as well in order to compete.

"A new Valley city will be good for business on both sides of the hill," Gaines said.

Anti-secession leaders said the VICA endorsement was expected, coming after the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley and a Valley Realtors board backed the breakup.

"It doesn't add anything to their base of support," said Larry Levine, co-chairman of the anti-secession group One L.A. "To the extent they have any base of support, it is in the Valley business community. I'm not sure VICA's endorsement will sway one undecided voter."

Breakup foes, however, had lobbied hard to keep VICA neutral. Former Mayor Richard Riordan wrote a letter saying that if the group stayed neutral, it would "ensure that VICA remains a powerful, impartial voice on economic issues in Southern California."

"We expected them to win this," said Kam Kuwata, an advisor to the anti-secession campaign. "Our challenge was to make them [pro-secessionists] sweat, and boy did we make them sweat. We forced them to work on [getting the VICA endorsement] and kept them from establishing things in other parts of the city. Basically, they lost the entire summer working on this."

Richard Katz, co-chairman of the secession campaign, chuckled at Kuwata's remarks. "This is a huge endorsement," Katz said. "It means more people reaching out to the Valley."

Gaines said his group's endorsement would carry weight throughout the region.

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