, Research Paper
The San Fernando Valley Secession Movement
The citizens of the San Fernando Valley will soon be facing one of the most important issues in their history. With an estimated 3.6 million residents in Los Angeles, the city has more population than 25 states combined. Los Angeles is so large geographically, that the cities of St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and New York City will fit within its boundaries (see Fig a). The San Fernando Valley has 1.2 police per 1000 residents, while the rest of the city has 2.2 assigned per 1000 residents. The Los Angles City Council meetings are held downtown, more than an hour driving from many parts of the Valley, making it difficult for Valley residents to be heard. For these and many other reasons, the decision facing the residents of the San Fernando Valley is To secede or not to secede. By examining the history, viewpoints of decision makers and citizens, and also the current status of secession, one can better understand the complexities of this issue.
The idea for the valley to secede is not a new one. The movement has roots that go back 20-25 years. In 1975, Hal Bernson, who at this time owned a blue jeans store in the Northridge Fashion Center & Larry Calemine, a real estate developer, founded CIVICC The Committee Investigating Valley Independent City/County. By 1978 after CIVICC s campaign gave the residents of the Valley the sense that they were being slighted and ignored by the City of Los Angeles, The campaign died. CIVICC put the city s shortcomings on paper for the first time, commissioning a study that concluded Valley taxpayers were being shortchanged when it came to receiving city services, said Bernson after he was elected to City council in 1979.
In 1993 Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills), a former CIVICC member, started an effort in the California State Assembly by authoring a bill that would take away the power of the Los Angeles City Council to veto secession petitions. It was not until October of 1997, when Governor Pete Wilson signed the bill, AB 62, inspired by Boland, and re-written by Assemblymen Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), that the power went back in the hands of the people.
Shortly after the passing of this bill an organization known as Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment or Valley VOTE, was founded by Jeff Brian, a valley resident and commercial real estate broker. He comments as follows:
In order to get something for our area, he observes, we have to go downtown. That s an hour s drive to start. Then we have to convince council members from all over the city. They say, Why should you get something if my neighborhood doesn t? Then you reach an impasse. (Husock, Howard, Let s Break up the big cities 4).
Valley VOTE s supporters are from various Home Owners Associations, VICA (Valley Industry and Commerce Association), and individual residents. They have also received financial support from the Los Angeles Daily News.
Valley VOTE s mission, to gather petition signatures from a minimum of 25% of the registered voters of the San Fernando Valley, will initiate a study on the logistics of an independent, Valley City. Valley VOTE has also drawn boundaries for the proposed city (see Fig b). Some Valley VOTE members support secession while others support a LAFCO study to determine the practicability of secession.
LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission), established by the State of California in 1963 to regulate urban growth, would carry out this survey. LAFCO is made up of nine members; two are from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; one is a City of Los Angeles Councilperson; two are Councilpeople from other Los Angeles County cities; two are from special districts such as Head of the Irrigation District; Fire Protection, or Sanitation, etc.; and two public members.
Two seated members of LAFCO are very familiar with this issue. Hal Bernson is a commissioner, representing the City of Los Angeles, and Larry Calemine is executive director. Both Bernson and Calemine have said that they must stay neutral on the issue of valley secession because their role on the state agency demands it.
LAFCO must determine whether or not Valley City would be able survive financially based on revenues from property taxes and business licenses. LAFCO will then be required to make sure that if the Valley were to secede, that there would be no adverse effect on the City of Los Angeles Treasury. If there is a difference, Valley City would have to pay the City of Los Angeles, every year to offset the loss. If LAFCO finds that secession would not harm Valley City or Los Angeles, it would go to a citywide vote as soon as the election of November 2000.
In May of 1998, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) decided to support a Valley VOTE s petition drive and a LAFCO study. VICA, which was founded 50 years ago, represents some of the Valley s largest companies. The organization wants a study of secession s possible pros and cons, said Bob Scott, a Vice Chairman of VICA. He continued, We were very active in supporting the people s right to vote, and I think this about the people s right to know.
Most of the parties interested in this movement share VICA s ideas and are not die-hard, secessionists. Most want the valley to have the opportunity to look at the possibilities and the feasibility of secession.
A poll of voters in the San Fernando Valley illustrated that if a vote on Valley Cityhood was held in March 1998, it would have won by a 2 to 1 margin. According to state law, 25% of registered voters in the San Fernando Valley must sign the petition. There are 526,000 people on the voter rolls. On November 17, 1998, Gloria Compton a Valley VOTE volunteer stated:
We have collected 186,000 signatures, that s roughly 36%. There is overwhelming support in the valley for cityhood. Valley VOTE is not stopping here, our goal is 200,000 signatures by November 25. We will then have 15 days to verify the names, and submit them to the Los Angeles City Council. The city council will then reverify the names and if we have the required 25% of registered San Fernando Valley voters, the City Council will commission LAFCO. (Compton, Gloria. Personal Interview)
If the San Fernando were to secede from Los Angeles, it would be the sixth largest city in the United States, with 1.5 million residents. Valley City would rank as the safest city of the nations 10 largest cities. With 40% of the valley residents being of a minority community, Valley City would be very ethnically diverse. Theoretically, secession would improve Valley public schools by keeping tax dollars from valley residents in the valley. It will be easier for residents to be heard in the community. More people would move to the Valley, benefiting business, real estate, and ethnic diversity among other things.
By no means is this battle over If the LAFCO study finds that valley secession is beneficial, it will take years to complete, perhaps even 10 or 15. There is no precedence for the split-up of a city the size of Los Angeles. Many questions would arise in a secession debate such as, how will the city s assets be broken up, how will the valley get water, what about shared assets not located in the valley, such as LAX and the LA Harbor, which bring significant revenues. Some experts believe that the split-up will end up looking like a nasty divorce. Others have more faith than that, citing that the valley s secession will be so clearly beneficial to all of Los Angeles that these issues will be quickly worked out.
Aitchison, Robert B., and Gerald A. Silver Valley Independence. http://www.lawcomp.com/robert/valleysecede (15 Nov. 1998)
Baker, David R. VICA supports petition drive on secession. Daily News 12 May 1998
Brian, Jeff S. Telephone Interview. 16 Nov. 1998.
- – -. More Reason why San Fernando Valley Residents want to explore Cityhood. http://www.valleyvote.org/reasons.htm (13 Nov. 1998)
- – -. Members and Committees. http://www.valleyvote.org/members.htm (15 Nov. 1998)
- – -. July 16, 1998 newsletter. http://www.valleyvote.org/080716.htm (15 Nov. 1998)
- – -. October 29, 1998 newsletter. http://www.valleyvote.org/102916.htm (15 Nov. 1998)
- – -. October 21, 1998 newsletter. http://www.valleyvote.org/102116.htm (15 Nov. 1998)
Cohen, Danielle Former assemblyman speaks on ramifications of Valley secession. Daily Sundial Online http://sundial.csun.edu/sun/97s/022497nel.htm (13 Nov. 1998)
Compton, Gloria Personal Interview. 17 Nov. 1998
Curtis, Aaron Q & A; Road to Secession Long and Full of Turns. Los Angeles Times 21 May 1996, valley ed., sec. A: A1+.
Gotch, Mike What is LAFCO CALAFCO http://calafco.org/lafco.htm (17 Nov. 1998)
Map Showing the Boundaries of the Affected Territory. Map. Valley VOTE, 1998
Hill-Holtzman, Nancy Governor Signs Secession Bill. Los Angeles Times 13 Oct. 1997, valley ed., sec. A: 1+
How Big is L.A.? Diagram. Valley VOTE, 1998
Husock, Howard Lets Break Up the Big Cities. City Journal http://www.cityjournal.org/html/8_1_a2.htm (13 Nov. 1998)
McGreevy, Patrick Riordan May Reap Gains by Backing Study Los Angeles Times 1 May. 1999, valley ed., sec A: 1+
Scott, Bob Secession is the City s Only Hope. Los Angeles Times 11 Nov. 1998, home ed., sec. B: 7+
Willon, Phil. Valley Secession Effort s Roots Go Back to the 70 s. Los Angeles Times 16 Aug. 1998, valley ed., sec. A: 1+
- – -. Chick Seeks Council s OK to Lengthen Petition Drive Los Angeles Times 1 Aug. 1998, valley ed., sec. B: 1+