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Jewish Journal

Secession Won’t Help the Poor

by Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs

October 31, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Fernando Acosta has important dreams. He hopes to one day be a city attorney. For now he works a cash register at Castle Park, a city-owned miniature golf course in Sherman Oaks, while attending college.

At 20 years old and the eldest child in his family, Acosta helps his single mother support his younger siblings. He's even helped his mother buy a home.

Acosta has been able to achieve a better standard of living for his family through the Living-Wage Ordinance, a Los Angeles law for city employees and workers.

If the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood win voter approval to break away from the city of Los Angeles on Nov. 5, Acosta and thousands of other workers will lose not only the living-wage guarantee, but countless other anti-poverty protections and programs now provided by the City of Los Angeles.

All Los Angeles ordinances would expire four months into a new Valley city's incorporation, which would occur next summer. The residents and workers in Hollywood and the Valley would then no longer be protected by living-wage, rent-control and housing-code-enforcement laws for which anti-poverty advocates, many of whom come from faith-based communities, fought long, difficult battles.

A study just released by the Los Angeles Alliance for New Economy and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education documents the range of impacts secession would have on low-income residents and workers in the Valley and Hollywood. The study, Left Behind, finds that the most economically vulnerable and disenfranchised residents could be profoundly hurt by secession. According to the study, there could be substantial cuts in anti-poverty programs, ranging from nutrition programs for youth and seniors to domestic-violence services.

The study also finds that the depth of poverty and need in Los Angeles -- poverty in the Valley is growing at more than double the rate of the city as a whole -- requires regional solutions. The study says that secession "would only increase fragmentation in government decision making and the provision of public resources."

This past spring, the Council of Religious Leaders of Greater Los Angeles released a statement expressing its opposition to the secession of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood from Los Angeles. Comprised of leaders of varying faiths, the council undertook a study of secession to examine its moral and theological dimensions.

"In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the ultimate test for a righteous society is its treatment of the poor and most vulnerable members," the council wrote. "The key question we ask with regard to secession is how it will impact the poor, the weak and the marginalized."

"For secession to be justified," the council continued, "proponents must demonstrate that this most serious of remedies will radically alter the status quo by significantly improving the lives of residents in the new city, while not adversely affecting those left behind."

The council's conclusion was that "secession proponents have failed to meet this most basic test."

The Jewish faith believes in actively working to protect and promote the well-being of the most disadvantaged in our society, that our renewal rests on our ability to fight economic, social and political injustices. With those goals, Jewish voters in Los Angeles must find that secession's potential damage to people like Acosta is unacceptable. And we must work together, with all of the diverse communities of the city, toward justice and a livable Los Angeles.

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