Daily News of Los Angeles
Sunday, November 3, 2002
Viewpoint Section

Secession's side effects; Cityhood vote energizes Valley residents

By: Shirley Svorny

The level of civic activity in the San Fernando Valley has never been greater.  The Nov. 5 vote on whether the Valley will detach from Los Angeles to form its own city has brought people out of the woodwork, all over the Valley.

It is hard to imagine an area better suited to taking on its own local government.  It sees itself as a community, which is critical, and geographically and from the perspective of civic involvement, it is a community.

Business and community groups have been energized by the potential for local authority.  The United Chambers of Commerce and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association have debated the idea and come out in favor of secession. 

Most remarkable has been the effort that Valley VOTE (Valley Voters Organized Towards Empowerment) has been able to muster.  Where did these people come from?  Dozens of people worked to get signatures for secession, and even more continue to support the campaign despite the Mayorís tremendous efforts to stop it.  This has led many Valley residents to feel a sense of community and empowerment they never felt before.

One hundred and eleven candidates are running for office-Ėmany new names, unfamiliar to Valley residents.  These people are thinking about how the new city can be run. 

 The mayoral candidates are digging into the research on city governance, looking for the best methods.  Candidates and others are asking questions that used to get very little attention. What techniques have been used in other cities that might work in the Valley?  How can we deal with traffic, crime?  What type of borough structure would work in the Valley? What alternatives do we have to double-decking the Ventura Freeway?    

Debates on secession are going on across the Valley. To give you a flavor of the diversity of groups debating secession, events have been staged by the Southland Association of Realtors, the San Fernando Valley School of Law, Pierce College, Shomrei Torah Synagogue, and the Arleta Chamber of Commerce and Residents Association, to name just a few.  

People are saying really amazing things. At a Black Chamber event, a young woman named Tamika Bridgewater spoke for many of us in the Valley.  When Robert Winn, a representative of the anti-secession group One L.A., argued the wisdom of choosing to live with the problems you know, Ms. Bridgewater took issue with him. She pointed out that staying with a system with problems is not the legacy of the U.S. nor that of its oppressed minorities. 

Iím frankly astonished by the extent of the activity in the Valley. Few political analysts would have predicted the level of activity we are seeing toward forming a new Valley city.  Valley girls arenít the type thought to be interested in local government.  But just the chance to have a say in local government has brought residents throughout the Valley to the table to discuss issues that involve us all. 

If you are ambivalent about the Valley breaking off, maybe this will convince you that we have the energy and resources to run our own city. 

Shirley Svorny is a professor of economics at California State University, Northridge.