What today we call "spin" is as old as the fairy tale about the emperor's new clothes. Spin works as long as no one points out that the emperor is really naked. Unfortunately, Los Angeles' elected officials forget the fairy tale's lesson when responding to the leaders of the San Fernando Valley secession movement.
Take the public forum on secession Tuesday in which Lisa Gritzner, chief of staff to City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, said the following: "There are very serious concerns over water, electricity and other things. You can disagree with me, you can think that the city's being obstructionist, but the city will not-- will not --allow those things to go unlitigated."
Gritzner was right to say the city would protect the interests of Los Angeles residents when it comes to key issues like water rights and power supply. But true to form, secession leaders immediately charged the city with trying to obstruct democracy by using the courts to delay a public vote on secession. Worse, in rushed Miscikowski and Mayor James K. Hahn to lend legitimacy to how Valley VOTE portrayed the incident.
"I have no intention of initiating or supporting any obstruction, and I wholeheartedly support the issue of Valley cityhood being decided by the voters in 2002," said Miscikowski in a written statement, echoing a date that secession leaders have managed to spin into a deadline.
A spokesman for the mayor also hastened to make nice, saying, "We strongly support allowing the voters to have a say on the matter."
OK, fine. But there is not much point in voting unless what would constitute a legal and fair division of city assets is hashed out. A report prepared by the city attorney's office in June--when Hahn was the city attorney--raises serious questions about the division as proposed by secession applicants and the Local Agency Formation Commission, which will determine whether to put secession to a vote as well as the terms of the breakup.
Which leads to the problem of the powerful agency's ties to secession forces. LAFCO's executive director, Larry Calamine, led a Valley secession movement in the 1970s. Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close is an alternate on the nine-member board. As an example of how shamelessly Valley VOTE can spin, the group raised a ruckus earlier in the month when City Council President Alex Padilla ousted Councilman Hal Bernson, a buddy of Calamine's and yet another old-time secessionist from the LAFCO board, and appointed Miscikowski, who represents a part of the Valley and opposes secession. Another example of city "obstructionism," Valley VOTE said.
Rather than attacking secession, Mayor Hahn's strategy is to convince Valley residents to stay a part of the city by improving services and quality of life. That's a smart approach. But it doesn't mean he and other elected leaders should buy into Valley VOTE's transparent posturing. And it doesn't mean they should be lap dogs when the very future of Los Angeles is at stake.