In the final days before the Nov. 5 election, secession supporters are facing a tough battle. The latest public opinion poll shows Valley voters backing Measure F, which would create a separate city, by a narrow margin.
A Los Angeles Times Poll earlier this month found only 42 percent of likely Valley voters in favor of secession. However, a more recent study by Survey USA for KABC-TV found Valley cityhood supported by 58 percent of likely voters in the Valley and 40 percent citywide.
In the past five months since the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) gave its approval to a ballot measure on San Fernando Valley secession, a war of words has been waged between Los Angeles City Hall and secession proponents such as Valley VOTE. Although the polls indicate a likely victory for those in favor of keeping Los Angeles in one piece, the outcome still appears uncertain, according to some observers.
Part of the unusual nature of the secession vote has been the necessity for candidates for office in the proposed Valley city to also promote the split from the city, without which there can be no offices to fill. A group of candidates running in planned Valley council districts formed the organization United Valley Candidates (UVC) to pool resources and ideas for promoting the breakaway effort. Many commented on the difficulties involved in running dual campaigns for office and secession, especially when it was their first bid for elected office. In addition, for Jewish candidates there has been the problem of overcoming the organized Jewish community's vocal opposition to Measure F.
A group of prominent local rabbis has taken out newspaper ads -- including in The Jewish Journal -- urging Jewish community members to vote no on secession. Also, the American Jewish Committee recently came out against secession.
In the nonpartisan Valley mayoral race, a Jewish Republican, 48-year-old Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge, appears to be the front-runner. He has endorsements from the Daily News and Assemblyman Dario Frommer, giving him a slight edge over his nearest competitor, realtor Mel Wilson.
The Democrat-backed Wilson, 49, is a former professional football player, who has served on the Los Angeles Fire Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. Other mayoral candidates include Marc Strassman, 54, an Internet consultant from Valley Village, and Leonard Shapiro, an 83-year-old newspaper columnist.
A high percentage of those seeking spots on the proposed Valley city council are Jewish. Of this group, Scott Svonkin is running the most conventional campaign. The chief of staff for Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) has received a number of endorsements, even from vocal opponents of secession, such as the county Democratic Party.
Aided by a $103,000 war chest, Svonkin has billboards placed throughout the proposed 14th District, which includes Studio City and parts of Sherman Oaks and Valley Village. In addition, he has sent out mailers and aired television ads that emphasize his experience but make little mention of secession.
Other candidates with less funds have sought creative ways to get their names before the public. Stephanie Spikell, also running for the 14th District seat, enlisted the help of her father, Hy Spikell, and five of his friends at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda to make calls to likely voters in the district.
Fellow council hopeful and UVC member Frank Sheftel, running in the 12th District, has been reaching out to seniors in the final weeks of the campaign, handing out fliers and promotional ballpoint pens at the Jewish Family Service's Valley Storefront in North Hollywood.
Sheftel reported an encounter with one elderly woman whose experience, he said, typified older residents in the area. "She lives in a seniors apartment complex with 200 people, and they don't have a polling place, so they all vote absentee," he said. "She said she had gotten mailers from Jewish organizations saying to vote against it [secession] and she did."
Sheftel echoed the sentiments of other Jewish candidates when he expressed his dismay at the organized Jewish community's response to Valley secession.
However, Sheftel said he was not going to lose hope. "This is a David vs. Goliath situation, and as I recall, David came out on top," he said half-jokingly. "It's not unprecedented that this could happen."
"People are not buying what the mayor is putting out," Sheftel said. "Larry Levine [founder of One Los Angeles, which opposes secession] likes to call the whole thing a 'scheme.' It is so offensive but typical of the language [the opposition] is using. Things are getting ugly and going to get uglier."
Similar complaints can also be heard on the opposition side, with people like former Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler pointing out the folly of secessionists demonizing Mayor James Hahn.
"The biggest mistake made by leaders of the secession movement has been to attack the mayor," Fiedler said. "Even if secession passes, the Valley is going to be heavily dependent on city services for at least a year, and to attack the mayor instead of talking positively about what they will do themselves is just bad politics."
Secession foes have continued running their now-familiar roulette-wheel TV ads, depicting secession as "a gamble we can't afford," along with similar radio ads ending with the tag line, "The devil is in the details."
Many Valley residents interviewed by The Journal said that despite the battle waged by One Los Angeles and other unity groups, they planned to vote for the breakaway effort, even if they didn't fully understand all the ramifications.
"Richard Katz makes some impressive arguments," noted one woman after attending a debate between the pro-secession Katz and former members of the Los Angeles City Council held Oct. 13 by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance's Jewish Community Relations Committee.
The fact that people are making up their minds based on one debate they attended or one candidate who knocked on their door worries Fiedler. The former congresswoman, a Republican who served from 1981 to 1987, was a longtime proponent of secession and even worked with Valley VOTE up until a few months ago.
However, she said the LAFCO report outlining the financial and legislative impacts of secession changed her mind. Now she is actively supporting the opposition, even giving a speech against secession at a seniors fair promoted by Hahn.
"It's going to be a disaster for the Valley," Fiedler said. "The public doesn't understand the scope of what secession means."
"The fact that it will be a municipal city instead of a charter city means that a whole host of laws passed by the City of Los Angeles will not be provided in the new city -- things like term limits, a living wage, provisions for a city ethics commission and all other commissions, with the exception of a planning commission," she said. "We won't even be able to vote for the city attorney or the city controller, because they will be appointed positions."
On a positive note, Fiedler said, whether or not secession passes, the movement has brought to light the very real problems within the San Fernando Valley that need to be addressed. On that score, at least, both sides agree.
"There's going to be a lot of cleanup afterwards, no matter what happens either way," Sheftel said. "It's not over on Nov. 5, not by any means."