- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

LOS ANGELES Secessionist fever is rising in the nation's second-largest city.

If secessionists succeed, in two years Los Angeles will become a hodgepodge of smaller towns, with borders as confusing as those in what used to be Yugoslavia.

The secession craze, founded on the notion that smaller is better, goes far beyond the original effort by activists in the north and northwest suburban San Fernando Valley to break off from Los Angeles.

Now there are efforts to make the Hollywood district and the harbor area separate cities and to carve up the 730,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District.

Some cities even are pushing to secede from a Southern California water district that manages ground-water supplies for multiple cities.

The secession movement is not a Yugoslav-style civil war, but it has created some interesting conflicts. One example: The Valley-based Los Angeles Daily News, owned by New Jersey-based Media News Group, is a constant advocate of secession from both city and school district and the biggest donor to Valley Vote, the prime pro-secession organization.

Meanwhile, the much larger Los Angeles Times editorializes continually for civic unity and has helped fund that cause.

Size is the issue behind most of the movements, with activists in many parts of Los Angeles believing they get little or no attention and poor representation because the current City Council is made up of just 15 members.

"We need a divorce," says Carlos Ferreyra, a board member of Valley Vote. "We don't get the attention we need, we don't get our share of city services and we're just second-class citizens in many ways."

To counter that sentiment, Mayor Richard Riordan has spurred creation of neighborhood councils that would take control of most local land-use and zoning decisions from the centralized City Hall bureaucracy.

Sentiment to break up the school district, second-largest in the nation, got a boost over the winter when a new school board majority ousted the incumbent school superintendent against the wishes of many Valley Hispanics.

"We already knew that the district is just too big to be efficient," says Amalia Martinez, a parent activist in the Granada Hills district of the Valley. "Now we're just angry because they obviously have no respect for what we want and care about."

Some other secession moves are prompted purely by money. "Our rate-payers are paying too much for water because of what we pay the regional water district," says Marc Titel, a council member in suburban Lakewood, one of five cities that want to secede from a regional water district. "We'll save a lot of money if we're on our own."

Mr. Riordan, meanwhile, tends to discount the secession movement as a mere "family feud."

"You are my brothers, you are my sisters, you are my baby and I want you to stay in the family," he told one meeting of 300 San Fernando Valley Realtors.

But that's not stopping the secessionists. They won $1.8 million in state funding for a formal study of the financial aspects of secession. Los Angeles County's Local Agency Formation Commission, which must rule secession is feasible before it can go to the ballot, will begin its formal study of the issue next month.

If the commission is able to work out a divorce-style split of assets ranging from school buildings to aqueducts and then gives its approval to the potential split-offs, each of the secession moves would go to a yes or no vote of the entire existing city. A breakaway would require yes votes from both the affected area and the entire present city.

Early indications are that secession almost surely would win a majority of voters in the Valley. One poll taken this winter by the Rose Institute of Claremont McKenna College showed 56 percent of Valley voters would vote yes, with 23 percent against. There has been no poll of the entire city.

But many minority activists in what would be left of the city say secession is a way for suburban whites to try to get rid of them.

"Backers talk about wanting smaller government, better schools and services, but their real agenda is to maintain white control of their city," says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a black columnist and author. "If they split the school district, it could result in a two-tiered school system in which more resources and better teachers go to affluent, mostly white schools, while the schools filled with poorer, mostly Latino and African-American students get the leftovers."

Not so, say spokesmen for Valley Vote. They note that a third of Valley Vote's board of directors is Hispanic, and that any new school district formed in their area would have a Hispanic majority.

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