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Valley Secession Bid Faces a New Challenge

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nobody said carving up the second-largest city in the nation would be easy.

That is becoming abundantly clear to Valley VOTE, the group that hopes to put Valley secession on a citywide ballot in 2000.

The group’s latest concern is that even if a majority of Los Angeles voters allow the Valley to break away, state law would impose a government structure for the new city that Valley VOTE leaders say is unacceptable.

Under state law, the 1.2 million Valley residents would become a “general law city” led by five council members, each of whom would represent about 240,000 residents.

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In contrast, the much-maligned 15-member Los Angeles City Council offers a slightly better ratio: one council member for every 232,000 residents.

“We do not now have enough representation by the City Council given the size of the Valley,” said Richard Close, Valley VOTE’s co-founder. “The general consensus is that council districts should have 50,000 to 70,000 people.”

To improve the representation for the proposed Valley city, Close said his group wants to draft a governing charter that would allow the new Valley city to increase the number of council members to 15 members or more. Such a change--already generating criticism from some Valley leaders--would improve the ratio to at least one council member for every 80,000 residents.

A Valley VOTE committee is now “getting input and suggestions on what a San Fernando Valley charter should have,” Close said.

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But there is a hitch. State law dictates that a new city charter can only be placed before voters by an elected panel, such as a City Council or an elected charter commission.

To allow a private group--such as Valley VOTE--to put a charter before voters requires an act of the Legislature and governor.

Close said Valley VOTE is considering asking local lawmakers to introduce legislation that would allow Valley VOTE to propose a Valley charter at the same time the city decides on Valley secession.

“I think it’s better to give voters an option when they vote on secession to adopt a charter that best serves them,” Close said.

A charter serves as a constitution and imposes a government structure for a city.

Calls for Valley secession pressured Mayor Richard Riordan and the City Council last year to launch two separate efforts to overhaul the city’s 72-year-old charter.

The two panels--an appointed panel and an elected commission--began meeting last summer to draft a new charter to submit to voters in 1999.

Some Valley activists and leaders of the existing charter reform effort say Valley VOTE may be overextending itself by trying to draft a Valley charter while simultaneously attempting to put secession on a citywide ballot.

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“It will entail a great deal of work and attention,” said George Kieffer, chairman of the appointed charter commission.

He suggested Valley VOTE instead support the effort to rewrite the city’s charter before considering a charter for a separate Valley city.

“If the Valley were to separate as a separate city, this is one of among many issues that are going to confront the Valley residents,” he said.

Bobbi Fiedler, a former Valley congresswoman who supports secession, criticized Valley VOTE for tackling the charter matter, saying the group should simply concentrate on putting secession on the ballot.

She also said the Valley’s charter should be written with the input of a broad representation of Valley residents.

“Why should one small group of people decide what the city of the San Fernando Valley will look like?” Fiedler said.

Former Assemblywoman Paula Boland, who championed a bill to make secession easier, agreed that Valley VOTE may be taking on too much.

“Trying to get a petition for two things at the same time is no easy thing,” she said.

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Boland suggested Valley VOTE leave the issue of a Valley charter for another group to study further.

April Manatt, a consultant for the state Senate Committee on Local Government, said there is an alternative to Close’s plan.

Under state law, she said, newly formed cities automatically become general law cities with five council members who are elected at large. A mayor is traditionally selected from among the five council members, she said.

But once the five council members of the new city are elected, Manatt said state law allows the new council members to ask voters to expand the size of the council up to nine members.

If the new city wants to adopt a charter, she said, the five-member council can draft a charter to put before voters, or ask voters to elect a charter commission to write a charter.


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