Nothing could dampen their spirits. On Saturday morning, July 27, a small band of San Fernando Valley secessionists gathered at a park in Van Nuys to sign a declaration of independence from the city of Los Angeles. In the middle of the historic moment, as leaders of the secession movement and candidates for office in the proposed Valley city crowded toward the podium to sign the petition, the park's sprinklers went off, sending politicians and camera crews running for cover.
Secessionists dubbed it yet another example of the city's incompetence when it comes to running the Valley. Some even joked that it was a conspiracy against Valley independence.
"Look at this. They're running the sprinklers in the middle of the day," remarked one secession supporter, using her red, white and blue Valley-cityhood sign to shield herself from the spray. "That says something about why we're here."
Although the event was performed tongue-in-cheek, in signing the declaration, secessionists said they hoped to make the point that a separation between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley is inevitable.
"All cities are not created equal," declared Jeff Brain, president of Valley VOTE. "Some cities provide their residents with the services and the quality of life they deserve. Others hinder the well-being of their residents, interfere with their dreams and sap their opportunities.
"Present-day Los Angeles is a city that has failed to keep pace with the times, failed to bring people together, failed to help its residents achieve their dreams. We believe the time has come to form an independent Valley city and control our own destiny," Brain said.
The event, which drew about 150 people, attracted a group of candidates for the proposed Valley city. Only a handful have held office or worked in government.
Paula Boland served in the state Assembly from 1991 to 1996, Terry Stone was field deputy for former City Councilman Joel Wachs and Scott Svonkin is currently chief of staff for Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood). They are running for the Valley's 3rd District (Northridge, Chatsworth), 10th District (Van Nuys, Encino) and 14th District (Sherman Oaks, Studio City), respectively.
Some of the other candidates have made prior bids for public office: Dr. Sid Gold, assistant chief of psychiatry for Kaiser Permanente's Valley service area, lost a congressional race against Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) in 2000, but is now running for the Valley district covering Granada Hills. Victor Viereck, an accountant who served on the city's Affordable Housing Committee, ran an unsuccessful campaign against Jack Weiss for the 5th District City Council seat last year. He is running for the Valley's 12th District seat covering North Hollywood.
The typical candidate, however, is more like broadcast consultant Barry Seybert, an entrepreneur making his first run for office. Seybert, a candidate for the 8th District (Woodland Hills, West Hills), has served on Los Angeles' Bicycle Advisory Committee for 10 years and on the newly created Neighborhood Council in West Hills for the past year.
"I'm from Cleveland, Ohio, and back there every city has its own city council, its own police, its own everything," Seybert said. "It is so well run. You see police driving around, so when something happens, they are there within minutes.
"Out here, for the West Hills area, the Police Department is in Reseda," he continued. "We need [another] police department in Woodland Hills to serve the West Valley."
Seybert, Gold and other Jewish candidates acknowledged that they have a long fight ahead, especially when it comes to convincing the Jewish community to vote in favor of secession. (A number of prominent rabbis have come out strongly against secession, including Rabbi Mark Diamond of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who was part of a task force to examine the issue. To date, no Los Angeles-based rabbi has publicly lent support to the secessionists' side.)
"We need to educate people," Gold said. "A lot of the rabbis don't understand what's going on, and a number of them have come out against cityhood. They look at it as a loss of services, but in truth, with the new city, there will be more services and more protection for the Jewish community.
"In a new city, we'd have more police and a much better response time," he said. "For our community, that should be the major focus of cityhood and the value of [secession]."