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Secession Discussion Splits CSUN Symposium

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A panel of experts met for two hours Thursday to discuss the impact of a San Fernando Valley political secession on race, class and the cost of government services, but found little common ground.

In fact, panel members, who were brought together in a symposium sponsored by Cal State Northridge, agreed on only one point: The current form of city government is unresponsive and must be dramatically restructured.

“The theme is that municipal government has to be more responsive, but the question is to whom and in what way,” said panelist and urban planner William Fulton.

Some panel members said the Valley secession drive is fueled by a desire for more local autonomy and control over spending, planning and public safety issues.

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That desire is echoed across the country, Fulton said.

“Part of the larger political debate in California and the United States is about what is the best size of local government,” he said.

But how to overhaul the current government system was a matter of opinion. And no one had the same answer.

Only one panel member promoted a move toward a Valley secession while others suggested keeping the city intact but reforming the government by overhauling the city’s 73-year-old governing charter.

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Several members suggested that even if the Valley were to break away, the struggle among communities for government resources would continue but on a smaller scale within the borders of the new city.

“No matter how you break up your government, the resources are going to have to go where they are needed the most,” said panelist Michael Bostik, who heads the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Bureau.

The diverse panel included members such as Xandra Kayden, president of the League of Women Voters; Irene Tovar, executive director of the Latin American Civic Assn., and Zedar Broadous, an associate minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Pacoima.

Still, the symposium ignited controversy. Valley VOTE, a group that is calling for an independent study of Valley cityhood, protested the symposium, saying the panel was stacked against them.

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Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, was the only panel member who promoted the idea of breaking up the city.

After the meeting, Valley VOTE members held a news conference to complain about the panel and accuse its members of creating misinformation about secession.

“What I heard is fear and assumptions,” said Valley VOTE member Gerald A. Silver.

The group was most upset with the comments of panel members who suggested that a Valley secession would only create more problems, such as higher water bills and less access to government services for minorities and the working poor.

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Marcia Volpert, vice president of the city’s Board of Water and Power Commissioners, predicted that Valley residents would have higher utility bills because the new city would have to get its water and power from more expensive sources.

“I cannot see from the information I have seen that your water and power bills would stay the same,” she told the panel. “They would most likely go up.”

Close and other Valley VOTE members disagreed and called such predictions “scare tactics.”

Tovar said she is reluctant to support the secession movement because she fears that minorities and the poor will have even less access to government resources under the Valley’s new city government. “I want to know how we will be better off with this new city rather than the current city,” she said.

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A study released at the symposium by a USC graduate student found that issues of race and class play a big role in the Valley secession movement, as they have in other breakaway efforts.

The graduate student, Thomas J. Hogen-Esch, concluded that secessions are, in large part, an attempt to segregate communities along racial and class lines.

The population of the city of Los Angeles is 37% white, 39% Latino, 13% black and 9% Asian, according to 1990 figures from the U.S. census.

Hogen-Esch found that the population of the proposed Valley city would be 57% white, 30% Latino, 8% Asian and about 4% black.

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Meanwhile, the remaining portion of the city of Los Angeles would be 27% white, 44% Latino, 10% Asian and 18% black, his study found.

“My concern with this and any secession movement is that it lends itself to segregating the urban landscape along race and class,” he said. Close rejected the suggestion, saying the movement is fueled by a growing feeling that government ignores the average person.

He noted that a recent survey of Valley voters found that 58% would support secession, mostly because they believe it would provide a more efficient, less bureaucratic government.


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