- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

LOS ANGELES Imagine New York City without Manhattan, or Washington, D.C., without Georgetown, and you've got a pretty good idea of what Los Angeles could look like come November.
Two ballot measures that would allow Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley to secede and become their own independent cities go before the voters Nov. 5. It's a vote that could cost Los Angeles more than 1 million residents, its status as the nation's second-largest city and the "Hollywood" sign.
The action sounds drastic, but proponents of the secession movement say that Los Angeles, with its 3.7 million people spread across 465 square miles, has become too sprawling, too chaotic and too populous to govern. They complain about shoddy services, uneven police protection, high taxes and a who-cares attitude from City Hall.
"We have one message: decentralization," said Gene LaPietra, the millionaire nightclub owner behind the Hollywood secession movement. "L.A. is entirely too big to manage under the current system. Right now we have long-distance government they're totally out of touch with the people."
Standing in the way is a virtual roll-call of the city's power structure, starting with Democratic Mayor James Hahn, who has pledged to raise $5 million to keep the city together. In his corner are powerful labor unions, top Democratic lawmakers and the Hispanic and black leadership, including former L.A. Lakers basketball star Magic Johnson.
"Every major Latino leader, the labor union movement and the Democratic Party have all come out against the secession movement," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "And California's pretty much a one-party state."
Brewing for over 30 years, the secession movement exploded this year, thanks in part to a new state law that allowed the issue to appear on the ballot without approval by the Los Angeles City Council. Another boost came when the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, concluded that the new cities would be financially viable without harming Los Angeles.
To ease the transition, both Hollywood and the Valley would have to pay millions in "alimony" to Los Angeles over 20 years.
Even so, opponents call secession too risky, arguing that it could result in higher taxes and fewer services for Los Angeles. Losing the Valley means losing wealthy enclaves like Encino and Sherman Oaks, although the area also includes lower-middle class communities.
"People are a little bit nervous about the risks and rewards involved. The proponents make a case, but the question is, is it accurate?" said Kam Kuwata, the longtime Democratic political hand running L.A. United, the anti-secession campaign.
Secession foes have already begun framing the issue as Democrat versus Republican, even though both San Fernando Valley and Hollywood are overwhelmingly Democratic.
"During the debate, they [secession foes] stood up and said, 'It's a right-wing conspiracy,' and they were saying it to three liberal Democrats," said Jeff Brain, president of Valley Vote (Voters Organized Toward Empowerment), which put the San Fernando measure on the ballot. "It's ludicrous."
Still, the secession message does lift several pages from the smaller-government playbook beloved by Republicans. Arguing that Los Angeles "wastes a fortune in taxpayer dollars" every year, they say an independent Valley City could provide better services with lower taxes, noting that other large cities such as Phoenix and Dallas spend on average $250 less each year per capita.
The real problem, say proponents, lies in the refusal of Los Angeles leaders to give up their power and perks.
"The Democratic leadership, not the people, has taken this on," said James Garfield, a who is assistant deputy mayor under ex-Mayor Richard Riordan and is a campaign manager for the Hollywood Independence Committee. "They're already entrenched, they're in power and they've decided among themselves to fight this."
In Hollywood, proponents say they want to restore the seedy, gang-plagued community to its former glamour. They point to West Hollywood, which incorporated 18 years ago and transformed from a drugs-and-gambling haven to a thriving, prosperous shopping town.
"All the politicians were against it; all the unions were against it. They said it would go broke," said Mr. LaPietra. "Well, it's the best-looking community in this area. It's spotless. They've got lots of police. You don't find the power lines hanging over your head like you do here. Small cities can do things much quicker and more efficiently."
Early polls showed the measures leading by a few points, but the movement suffered a blow July 2 when the Los Angeles Times published a poll showing both initiatives trailing. Even if the proposals lose, however, their supporters predict there's too much voter dissatisfaction for the idea to disappear.
"There's a physical barrier between the city and the Valley. It's maintained its own culture," said Mr. Garfield. "These kinds of cultural matters underlie why this town's going to split apart. Even if we lose, this issue's not going anywhere."

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