Zev Yaroslavsky has served on the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) since its inception in 1998. This experience, plus eight years as a Los Angeles County supervisor representing both sides of the Santa Monica Mountains, and a councilman before that, has made him one of the best-informed authorities on Valley secession. He recently took time to share his insights with The Jewish Journal.
When LAFCO first started work on its report for the Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley split, did you think secession would prove feasible?
Yes. I don't think there is any question that the San Fernando Valley would be a fiscally viable city if it seceded, as would be the city of Los Angeles. There have been many cities with far fewer resources that do quite well.
What did you think of the report from the Council of Religious Leaders? It stated that secession would do nothing to improve the lives of the poor on either side of the Santa Monica Mountains.
I did not read the report. I know there are some people who believe, as they [the council] do, that secession will diminish resources for the poor, but there are also some people in the San Fernando Valley who believe the poor have suffered more from the way things are set up now and that, in fact, a new city would be able to get more funding. The Valley would be the sixth largest city in the country and would compete for state and federal grants as that instead of as a suburb of Los Angeles.
If you look at Philadelphia [currently the fifth largest U.S. city], it gets more money than the San Fernando Valley gets, so it is arguable that the Valley as a separate city would compete as though it were Philadelphia and not a bedroom community of Los Angeles.
Do you think secession is justified? Has the city of Los Angeles been proven unresponsive to the needs of the Valley? And is the Valley, as secession supporters claim, receiving inadequate services as compared to the rest of the city?
I have kept myself out of that argument for now. Sitting on LAFCO, it's like being a judge in a divorce proceeding. You have to keep neutral. But I will say that I disagree with people who say it's a matter of morality. Secession is not a moral issue, it's not an accounting issue. It is a political issue and has to be addressed as that.
Over the next few months, Valley residents are going to have to sit around the kitchen table and ask themselves: Will we be better off making this change? Are we going to keep using the existing services and, if so, what is the use of secession? A lot of it comes down to land-use issues: do we really want decisions about what happens on Ventura Boulevard or Lassen Avenue being made by someone living in San Pedro?
What effect do you think secession would have on the Jewish community?
I'm not sure. A majority of the Jewish community lives in the San Fernando Valley, but a significant part remains on the Westside. So would it divide the community to some degree? No question. Would it divide the Jewish community's political power? Maybe. It would improve the community's clout in the San Fernando Valley, but would likely diminish its power in the city.
Most people are confused about what secession would really mean, for example, thinking it would automatically create a smaller school district. Even the League of Women Voters found discrepancies between what secessionists say will happen if the city breaks up and what the city of Los Angeles is saying. How can voters make an informed decision with so much conflicting information being thrown at them?
I have a lot of confidence in the voters to make the right decision. I think people inside the beltway sometimes sell the intelligence of voters short. Most people know something about the city breaking up. And whatever decision they make, life will go on, whether secession passes or secession fails. The pro-secessionists who say this is the panacea to end all of the ills of living here are, to say the least, overstating their case and the people who are against secession and are running around saying this will be Armageddon are also overstating. We've had reorganizations of cities before. I don't think people should be fearful the world is going to end.