Still Dreamin’ in the Valley

IN POLITICS, MONEY USUALLY BEGETS DESTINY, and the smart money lined up early against Valley secession, with most smart politicos following suit. The big-name politicians sat this one out, choosing not to run either for mayor or for a city-council seat in the proposed Valley city.

And they made the right call. But Tuesday night’s gathering of pro-secessionists at the Radisson in Sherman Oaks stubbornly refused to become a wake, precisely because the entire affair had the welcome air of an amateur hour about it.

Right here in 21st-century Los Angeles, in the high-gloss Gomorrah ofä sin and cynicism, was a preposterous and entirely refreshing gathering of ordinary Joes without money who’d walked through neighborhoods, believing they had a chance to get the most votes. Just about everyone in attendance was a secession leader, or one of the 111 candidates for local office, or a close relative. It wouldn’t have been much of a final Valley frat party without them.

Consider Joseph Martin, 57, an environmental engineer, who spent $1,000 and walked through three pairs of shoes. Next to him, in a handmade, genuine Wyoming cowboy hat, was 60-year-old artist Jerry England. He’d spent $6,700, and championed the preservation of Chatsworth-area horse properties under the motto “Roundup Some Respect.” He’d considered rounding up votes on horseback, “but the liability if someone gets kicked is not good.”

Martin lives three blocks from England, and the campaign turned them into drinking buddies by Tuesday night. Martin’s peeve is poorly planned development, a theme that would apply equally well in East L.A. or Pico-Union. But he likes England’s issue, too: “I remember being able to ride a horse from Chatsworth to Van Nuys without having to step foot on concrete or asphalt.”

England nodded: “We all have a remembrance of a Valley long gone. We all blame politicians and developers. And what’s left we feel we have to fight for.”

Audry Myers, who moved to the Valley in 1953 at age 10, remembers a safer era. “You could sleep with your windows open, and you didn’t need to lock your doors,” said Myers, a social worker in a red, white and blue sweater. “There seemed to be more police and less crime. We didn’t have the potholes and cracked sidewalks. I don’t remember the traffic. I feel trapped, betrayed, exploited and violated by the city.”

This conclave was fueled by nostalgia and hope — and burnished with litanies of individual and neighborhood grievances. For Laurette Healey, the co-chair of the campaign, it wasn’t about horse property so much as the exorbitant business tax. Healey had focused the failing campaign’s resources on the Valley itself and had the satisfaction of seeing about half of Valley voters favor secession, which may be enough to keep the flame alive.

It certainly will burn eternally for true believers such as attorney Tony Serritella, who asserted, “Our passion is greater than Mayor Hahn’s ability to raise funds to destroy a popular movement.”

If secession had made it through, some friendly neighborhood folk like England and Martin would suddenly be governing a metropolis the size of Philadelphia, with all the complexities they don’t remember from the Valley of their childhood. They’d finally have gotten their shot at doing things right, at least until the big-money boys came in and took charge.

But it was not to be on this round. By Wednesday morning, the Radisson’s Del Mar room had cleared out for a Costco orientation. And the International Association of Shopping Centers was set to commandeer the California room.

Valley council candidate Don Larson is ready to resume giving Los Angeles a try. He’d already organized a city-sanctioned neighborhood council in Northridge. And stodgy old L.A. has approved his plan to call his neighborhood representatives “kapunas,” and their meetings will be referred to as a “gilgamish.”

“I actually like Los Angeles,” he conceded.

Tracy West, whose husband’s cousin ran for office, chose a different sort of solution some time back. She moved to Santa Clarita: “Luckily, it’s not affordable to a lot of people.”

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