By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Having been handed secession by a process that asked very little of Angelenos except to be unhappy, they would do well to ask of secessionism what it is and what it will give the cities it splinters from Los Angeles.
Secessionism in the San Fernando Valley is the politics of race in a city where race doesn’t mean much anymore, except to those who callously use it or gullibly believe in it. The anti-busing crusades of the 1970s in the Valley and the founding in 1975 of CIVICC (the Committee Investigating Valley Independent CityCounty) gave secession its first reasons, and these were clearly racial and exclusivist in motivation. The threats of African-American leaders to support secession are equally racial and exclusivist now. But the purpose behind these threats and appeals is gone. Los Angeles is becoming maximally mixed, as new Census data show, except in those pockets of the northwest Valley where it is still barely possible to imagine a diminished city that is white, and in large tracts of South-Central where poverty undermines any idea of a city at all. But if you look at the whole, mongrel city of Los Angeles -- the impure mestizo city -- it‘s passing beyond race to the more troubling and pertinent question of class.
Which makes secessionism backward-looking. It’s nostalgic. It‘s politics for a city almost entirely gone, carried away by the flight of white voters and middle-class black voters and the rise of Latino majorities in many neighborhoods. That makes Valley secessionism -- on its own racial and class terms -- merely temporary. Secession leaders and fellow travelers will rule a new Valley city for a dozen years at most, and they will pass from the scene, because of term limits, to be inevitably replaced by a mostly Latino political establishment that will appeal to a working-class and not-quite-middle-class Latino constituency.
Secessionism’s promise of services at a lower cost to consumer-taxpayers is apt to be temporary, too. The county‘s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) reports that a new Valley city would be ”viable“ (and LAFCO is vigorously cooking the numbers to make San Pedro and Hollywood look ”viable“ too). But viability is a dangerously modest standard on which to demolish one city and make up new ones. Viable isn’t successful, as the sorry fiscal condition of too many cities in Los Angeles County makes clear. And LAFCO‘s reports, by law, forecast just the first three years of a new city’s economic future.
Secessionists are uninformed about trends in municipal financing and land-use policy (or unwilling to share the bad news with voters) that undercut the premises of secessionism. New cities made from Los Angeles will have some part of their revenue that passes through state hands diverted to plug California‘s $24 billion deficit. The new cities will be under state pressure to increase the number and density of housing units in single-family neighborhoods and to adopt zoning ordinances that conform to land-use standards mandated by the state and regional agencies. The Valley will have to deal with current proposals for state-mandated sales-tax sharing, which would send part of its revenue to less mall-rich communities in Los Angeles County. On the horizon is even broader state intervention in the setting of municipal priorities (driven by a decadelong shift of municipal-financing authority from cities to the state government) undercutting local control and quality-of-life protection as key arguments for secession.
Secession is the wrong blunt instrument for managing essentially neighborhood issues. Former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a Valley VOTE leader, believes secession is really about what all residents everywhere want: ”safer neighborhoods, good schools, their streets paved, their trees trimmed and the garbage picked up on time.“ Secessionism fails to make the connection between meeting these desires and breaking up Los Angeles -- other systems of service delivery might be even more efficient and cheaper without secession, if these ”consumer values“ are the real criteria for making a city. If the desire is ”better schools,“ secessionism is aiming at the wrong target.
Secessionism doesn’t deliver the right degree of change. It‘s too big at the scale of neighborhoods and too small at the scale of the region. Secession can’t make the Los Angeles Unified School District, the county Board of Supervisors, or any other countywide political unit smaller, more responsive and more representative, because they are all independent of the city. Secessionism can only break up Los Angeles.
Secessionism has unintended consequences. A fractured city of Los Angeles, its parts squabbling in the courts over the terms of the breakup, and fierce rivals for state aid and every form of advantage, will accelerate the imposition of regional government in Southern California. Regionalization will remove many neighborhood quality-of-life issues from local control and pass them to another, and even more remote, level of government that will be primarily responsive to state, not local, interests. Many on the left regard state-imposed regionalization as a good thing, since messy local interests are hard to reconcile with the need for big plans, and some on the left, including former state Senator Tom Hayden, aided secessionism by supporting the legislation (AB 62 in 1997) that made secession possible.
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