November 7, 2002
Valley secession meets defeat, leaving a city to ponder what's next.
The Valley will rise again, even if we have to sue: that was the vow of secessionists as the measure to breakup the City of Los Angeles went down in defeat, winning by a narrow margin in the San Fernando Valley but losing in the citywide vote.
But supporters of the breakaway effort were decidedly more subdued at a Wednesday morning press conference, saying that they were exploring a variety of options but would not necessarily pursue legal action.
Measure F, which would have allowed the San Fernando Valley to become an independent city, was defeated with 67 percent of voters citywide voting against, despite a narrow majority of Valley voters running 51 percent in favor. The measure was unique in its requirement that it pass both within the Valley and in a combined Valley and City of Los Angeles vote.
Jews were involved on both sides of the secession battle, but communities in both the Valley and the city were opposed to the measure primarily because they felt it would disenfranchise the poor.
From the beginning, secessionists agreed that theirs was a long shot, and election returns throughout the night bore that assessment out. But far from being depressed, Tuesday night found breakaway advocates in good spirits, gobbling up chocolate-covered strawberries as "Big Country" boomed from the sound system at the Radisson Hotel in Sherman Oaks. Valley candidates, a good percentage of whom are Jewish, expressed their optimism despite the early returns.
"I really believe we'll carry the Valley," said Carol Silver, a candidate for the Valley City Council's 7th District. "Los Angeles has just done too little, too late. People feel that, for the first time in a long time, their vote counted."
Like a lot of secession supporters, Silver, the owner of a PIP printing store, found the issue had spurred her to a whole new level of civic involvement. She said she did not know if she would run for an L.A. city office if secession were defeated. "I'm not ruling anything out. I may not run again, but I'll always be a part of the process."
On the opposition side, things were relatively quiet at one of the two anti-secessionist outposts in the Valley. At the Democratic Party of the Valley's Encino headquarters, about 75 people gathered to watch the returns and toast each other with Camelot wine (a poke at one of the possible names for the new Valley city). Rep. Brad Sherman, currently of the 24th District, did not have long to wait to breathe his sigh of relief; by 9 p.m. CNN had called the 27th congressional race in his favor. Most of the concentration then went to other Democratic candidates including Lloyd Levine -- who would go on to win the race for State Assembly's 40th District -- and the governor's race, where Bill Simon had taken a premature lead. Secession, partiers felt, was in the bag.
Meanwhile, at the Sheraton Universal, a restless crowd from L.A. United also seemed more focused on the gubernatorial race than on Measure F. Volunteers from the group had worked tirelessly to defeat the breakaway effort, aided by the giant war chest of $7.4 million amassed by Mayor James Hahn.
Most anti-secessionists interviewed predicted (incorrectly, as it turned out) that Measure F would be defeated in the Valley as well as the citywide vote. Some, like former City Councilman Michael Feuer, expressed their fervent hope that such an outcome would finally put an end to the breakaway effort.
"This secession campaign is a distraction from actually fixing things," Feuer said. "The mayor, the city councilmembers, everyone had to put their time into thinking and working on secession when they should be working every waking moment to make things better in the city."
Asked if he thought a boroughs system or more powerful neighborhood councils might get another look now that secession had failed, Feuer said he did not think those were the solutions to the Valley's problems.
"I'm skeptical of this flavor-of-the-month approach to reforms. We need to give the reforms that are already out there time to work," he said. "For example, it's very early in the evolution of neighborhood councils. We should give those a chance for a little bit. Saying, 'We're impatient to improve things in the city' is different than saying, 'Lets add one layer of reforms after another.'"
Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton soaked in the party's atmosphere from the side of the stage. The newly installed chief of police, who has been vocal regarding his opposition to secession, said he foresaw some good coming out of the secession movement.
"It's brought a lot of attention to their concerns," said the chief.
"Whether or not those concerns are justified is a matter of perception, but we in the [police] department certainly intend to give it a fresh look."
Back at the Radisson, Jewish community activist Scott Svonkin watched the election returns from his penthouse suite, surrounded by family and friends. Although he won his bid for the Valley City Council's 14th District, it was a bittersweet victory, since the loss of Valley secession left him a councilman pro forma. He did get to participate in a press conference Wednesday morning with the other winning candidates, but the future of the Valley's "council in exile" seemed unclear.
"I would be happier today if I were councilman of a city, but I'm very gratified with the outcome of the election," Svonkin said.
On election eve, Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment chair Richard Close and others discussed taking the issue to court if a majority of the Valley voted for Measure F.
Svonkin said he did not know if that fight would continue, but he acknowledged that changes were in the air and he hoped to be a part of them, as did the other Valley candidates.
"I think it's my obligation as one of the top candidates to ensure the Valley gets the things the voters spoke out for -- a fair share of resources, better services and a more responsive government," Svonkin said.
Whether the mayor will accept the olive branch extended to him remains to be seen.
"There is an opportunity here, when the noise dies down," Feuer said. "The mayor and the city council need to go to the people and say, 'Now we're going to show you that we are better as a larger city and this is how it will work.'"