A county agency launched a study Wednesday to determine if breaking up Los Angeles would negatively affect the environment, but secessionists called for an expanded review to avoid possible delays in court.
The Local Agency Formation Commission will use its study to determine whether a split might cause negative effects that, under state law, would require a detailed analysis in the form of an environmental impact report.
City Councilman Hal Bernson questioned whether a change in governments for the San Fernando Valley would itself harm the environment, but secessionists said they support taking six months to conduct an environmental impact report focused on issues that might have effects.
Jeff Brain, president of Valley VOTE, the main group advocating secession, said he supports LAFCO's initial study but believes a full environmental impact report will be required later. Brain doesn't believe the cityhood plan would harm the environment, but he does not want to see a cityhood vote delayed by a city lawsuit that alleges the issue was not adequately studied.
"We want to take a more conservative approach," Brain said. "This is an issue that could breed a lawsuit."
LAFCO is already conducting a financial study to determine whether cityhood is feasible and therefore should be placed on the November 2002 ballot.
"I think all the people involved want to be sure we touch all bases and do the best we possibly can to win in a court action," said LAFCO Chairman Henri Pellissier.
The alternative to a detailed environmental study is for LAFCO to issue a declaration that cityhood is not expected to create significant harm to the environment that could not be mitigated. But Clark H. Alsop, an attorney for Valley VOTE, said a legal challenge to such a declaration might succeed.
In a separate legal opinion given to the commission Wednesday, County Counsel Lloyd Pellman stated that a full EIR is required, according to a court ruling, "whenever it can be fairly argued on the basis of substantial evidence that the project may have significant environmental impact."
The study launched Wednesday will determine whether a "fair argument" can be made that Valley cityhood could have significant effects on the environment.
"LAFCO approvals that result in a transfer of land-use authority are considered by the courts to be suspect of likely causing significant environmental effects," Pellman wrote.
Such transfers could theoretically result in new rules that make harmful development easier. But Brain noted that the existing land-use rules applied to the Valley by Los Angeles would remain in effect if a new city is created.
Even so, he predicted an environmental study would have to look at how cityhood could affect land use and other issues, including traffic.
"We believe traffic will be less because people won't have to go downtown for their services," Brain told the commission.