Los Angeles Daily News
Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Democrats really do support a Valley city

By Shirley Svorny and Leah Marcal

The San Fernando Valley's effort to leave Los Angeles to form a new city has drawn the ire of the Democratic Party.

With the announcement that it will not support individuals who run for political office in the new city, the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley joins the city employees union (the Service Employees International Union), and the mayor in opposing San Fernando Valley secession.

City News Service quoted Mayor James Hahn as saying, "This is the voice of the Democratic Party in the San Fernando Valley. This is not just one person standing up at a microphone."

But the mayor may be hearing voices that aren't really there. It is not clear that rank-and-file Democrats in the Valley oppose secession.

In April 1998, pollster Arnold Steinberg conducted a survey of registered voters in the San Fernando Valley for CIVIC, a group formed to explore detachment. Steinberg found that the majority of registered Democrats favored secession.

At the time, 52.6 percent of Democratic voters expressed support for Valley cityhood, 35.1 percent opposed it, and 12.3 percent were uncertain.

Not surprisingly, the poll showed significant differences in support for secession between Democrats and Republicans. Because Republicans tend to advocate decentralized decision-making and the devolution of power to local communities, they are expected to be more supportive of an independent city in the San Fernando Valley.

The 1998 survey found evidence consistent with this premise -- of registered Republicans surveyed, 67.1 percent favored detachment, 21.8 opposed it, and 11.1 were uncertain.

Examining the poll data, the economic circumstances of voters seemed less important than their community attachment in forming opinions of secession.

Controlling for other characteristics of voters, those living in wealthy communities showed no greater support for detachment than voters in poorer communities. Homeowners' views did not differ from those of renters.

Yet, longtime residents showed greater support for secession than their neighbors.

Voters who read the local paper, the Los Angeles Daily News, were more likely to support secession than voters who read the Los Angeles Times, which is more oriented toward national issues.

Driving distance to City Hall turned out to be a key predictor of support -- residents of Valley communities far from City Hall were much more likely to favor detachment than those living closer in.

These results suggest that a strong desire to define a community is the fundamental force behind individual support for detachment.

When the vote on secession takes place, Valley voters will have the opportunity to vote for a Valley mayor and 14 council representatives.

Jeff Darr, chairman of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, argues that Democratic candidates for new Valley offices should put their "political ambitions on the back burner" and not run for office.

Yet, the political ambitions of the party leaders are stifling the voices of the rank-and-file Democrats who favor government closer to home.

It is in the interests of the Democratic Party and the city employees union to protect the power they have vested in the status quo in Los Angeles, no matter how ineffectual and unresponsive that city government has become.

By rejecting the call for local government in the San Fernando Valley, the Democratic Party may be ignoring the preferences of its own constituents and will certainly reduce the impact it can have on the formation of a new government.

Shirley Svorny and Leah Marcal are authors of the article "Support for Municipal Detachment: Evidence from a Recent Survey of Los Angeles Voters," which appeared in Urban Affairs Review in September 2000.