Jewish Journal

Low Profile, High Impact

As the Valley contemplates secession, residents are considering the many issues surrounding the possible separation.

by Wendy J. Madnick

Posted on Apr. 11, 2002 at 8:00 pm

It is tough to estimate current public opinion regarding Valley secession. In the two years since the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) began its investigation into the possibility of secession, the world and the people of Los Angeles have radically changed their priorities. To paraphrase Rick Blaine in "Casablanca," it doesn't take much to see that the problems of two little areas don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Still, in interviews at locations around Los Angeles, when people had opinions about secession, it was primarily favorable.

"It may be good because the city's too large, and you have a lot of wasted money happening," said Westside resident Amy Raff. "So if you were to break it down, and deal with the issues on this side of the hill, specifically, and keep the money here to deal with those issues, and the money on that side to deal with those issues, then it would be good."

Iris Zaft, 53, moved to West Hills four years ago from the Pico-Robertson area. She said her vote would depend heavily on weighing the social benefits of secession.

"If it would benefit people who are sending young people to school, it would be very good for the Valley," Zaft said. "[The city of Los Angeles] may be harder to govern because it's so large and so diverse; and there are senior citizens' needs and families' needs and young people to consider. If [secession] would help those people, it would be a good thing."

Zaft said either way the secession issue ended up being resolved, it should not affect relations within the Jewish community.

"I'm still friends with people from Pico-Robertson. They might ask me what I like and what is different living here, but it doesn't separate us."

Allan Abramson, 47, an engineer with Los Angeles County's Public Works Department, said he had mixed opinions about the issue.

"There are valid points on all sides," he said. "From what I understand, there's definitely money in the Valley, so if the secession would allow the Valley to keep the money here and not support South-Central or the poorer areas of Los Angeles, that's what some people feel good about. It's going to tax the governmental system; the infrastructure will have to be divided and rebuilt. It will take a lot of time but the logistics are fairly surmountable."

Abramson said it probably would not affect his department. "Depending on how they break up the services, there might be some voids where the county would have to provide some services. That's what L.A. County Public Works does. The county provides services based on the requests of incorporated cities which aren't big enough or don't have the facilities to provide those services."

Like Zaft, Abramson said the effect of secession on the Los Angeles Jewish community would be negligible.

"You have family on this side of the hill; you have family on that side of the hill. There are temples and synagogues on both sides. If you're in the situation of doing shiva and you're in the city and want to go say Kaddish, you go to a synagogue there; if you're in the Valley you go to a synagogue in the Valley. It wouldn't make any difference," he concluded.

In addition to its less-than-glamorous profile, the secession issue also suffers from the public's lack of understanding of what it means. Most people interviewed said their main reason for supporting secession was that it would improve local schools, implying that a secession from the city would naturally result in the creation of a new school district for the new Valley city. However, the State Board of Education (which must approve any measures for creating new school districts) ruled in early December that San Fernando Valley schools could not break off from the Los Angeles Unified School District, because the district relies too heavily on funding from Valley residents and because such a move would further segregate city and Valley schools.

Political analysts like Raphael Sonenshein, a professor at California State University Fullerton, say they fear current misunderstandings about the real impacts of secession could have dire repercussions if the issue goes to a vote in November.

"What we don't know is what information will be on the ballot or what the terms are going to be, because no one agrees on the terms right now," Sonenshein said. "It is extremely difficult to answer whether you are for or against secession when it is only posed as an abstract. The problem is, this is such a big deal, it is difficult for people to get their arms around the consequences, whether good or bad. People are taking a lot of shortcuts in their analysis because it is simpler that way."

Sonenshein said much of how people will ultimately vote on the issue rests on what kind of information they receive in the next seven months.

"That's why we have political campaigns. It allows for the information to be brought to the table, and then tested against each side," he said. He added that in his opinion, the polls should have shown even more support for secession than they did "because most of the information coming from LAFCO points out the ways secession would work. But that will all be tested in the heat of the political campaign."

LAFCO officials will submit their decision regarding placing the issue before voters on the November ballot later this month. In the meantime, watch for The Journal's final segment in this series, which will examine the likelihood of secession passing and the role the Jewish-community, as voting bloc, will play.

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