Daily News - Monday, February 11, 2002

Title: Who do you trust? Secessionists put their confidence in themselves

By Shirley V. Svorny

MAYOR James K. Hahn came to California State University, Northridge, in the San Fernando Valley on Tuesday to express his concerns about the movement to break up the city of Los Angeles.  He questioned the motives of leaders of the secession movements in the Valley, Hollywood and the Harbor area, and stressed his resolve to work on the problems facing Los Angeles.  Speaking before several dozen reporters and editors representing ethnic newspapers from across Los Angeles, the mayor called secession "a bad idea."

Hahn knows the problems of the city all too well. He labeled the city's economic development efforts "disjointed." He admitted that basic services should be a priority, but hid behind the current budget shortfall to explain why he can't do much to improve them.  "We recognize we haven't done the best job possible," he said, but then boasted, "You ain't seen nothing yet."  He's right. We haven't seen what he can do to stop secession.

Backed by moneyed downtown interests intent on keeping power centralized in Los Angeles, the mayor will be a formidable opponent to secession.

Hahn cautioned that voters should be wary of those leading the secession movement, suggesting that they have a hidden agenda. When asked to elaborate, the worst Hahn could say was that some secession advocates have political aspirations.  Of course, the fact that the mayor is aligned with the politically powerful city employees' union to protect the current nexus of power in Los Angeles -- reflects his own political aspirations.  Secession is all about politics -- the politics of failure and promise.

Hahn stressed that it is the intention of his administration to work with the communities in Los Angeles. "We will work very hard to bring representation to the communities," he said, as if, somehow, power would actually be transferred from downtown without secession, and as if it would continue once the secession threat has been removed.

The mayor lauded the potential of neighborhood councils, a product of the recent charter reform, but it is hard to believe that the politically powerless neighborhood councils could ever challenge downtown interests or take control over local issues in Los Angeles.

Hahn expressed the concern that, as the new Valley city takes shape, many services will be provided by Los Angeles, but residents will be without representation on the Los Angeles City Council.  The irony, of course, is that the Valley has been represented on the City Council for decades, with little influence.

The mayor needn't worry about Valley residents. It is likely that, as newly elected Valley leaders contemplate how and by whom services will be provided in the new city, the interim Los Angeles city service providers will offer Valley residents the best services they have ever seen.

According to Mayor Hahn, the message the world will take from the effort to break up Los Angeles is that "We don't believe in ourselves anymore." However, supporters of breaking up the city do believe in themselves, more than they believe in the City Council, the Service Employees International Union (which represents city workers), and a downtown mayor to promote Valley, Hollywood and Harbor interests.  Secession advocates know that the full potential of Los Angeles has yet to be realized; they believe in themselves and in the power of local control.

Shirley V. Svorny is a professor of economics at CSUN.