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Welcome to Camelot: A New City With the Same Old Freeway Jams

Any day now, I expect to get a flier on my doorstep announcing a campaign for Silver Lake to secede from Los Angeles.

All of a sudden, secession has become trendy. The San Fernando Valley wants out. San Pedro and Wilmington want out. Hollywood wants out, but won’t surrender the sign to L.A. A citywide brawl has erupted, and before it’s over, we may see flag-carrying secessionists scaling the Westside hills to take the Getty.

Growing up in Northern California, I often heard people say they wanted no part of Los Angeles. But roughly half of Los Angeles now wants no part of Los Angeles. Clearly, the electric personality of Mayor Jim Hahn has not been a unifying force, and it’s starting to get embarrassing.

You don’t hear that Brooklyn wants out of New York City, do you? Or that the South Side wants out of Chicago?

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In an attempt to find out what’s going on, I attended last week’s meeting to pick a name for the new Valley city that would be created by secession. It was held just east of the 405, above the truck and SUV showroom at Galpin Ford, which might make a nifty City Hall, and drew 100 people who voted on names by placing blue and pink stickers onto posters.

It was quite a charming scene in many ways, as local folk made impassioned pleas for their name of choice. But this isn’t Mayberry they’re forming. It would be the sixth-largest city in America. And after watching a process that resembled a kindergarten art project sponsored by the local car dealer, I wondered if the leaders of this mutiny might be in over their heads.

“It’s about community,” said Bill Powers, a Valley VOTE board member who made a nice speech about wanting more of a distinctive sense of place, more services and more accountability from elected representatives.

All very commendable. Unfortunately, you don’t get quaint accountability in a sprawling city of 1.35 million people. You get a whole new set of boondoggles, hacks and unavailable bureaucrats.

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That’s if the city gets anything new at all. For a while, if not forever, it’ll be renting the same L.A. cops and firefighters, drinking the same water, sending children to the same schools and sitting in the same traffic jams.

That doesn’t mean I’m against secession any more than I’m for it. If you’re aware of a compelling argument either way, please notify me immediately. But it seems to me that if you broke Los Angeles into a thousand Angelenostans, you’d still have the same major problems, including bottlenecks, iffy schools and astronomical housing prices.

And yet at the medicine show I went to in North Hills, people were being sold a balm of daffodils and sunshine. Camelot, in fact, was one of the five finalists, and Valley VOTE President Jeff Brain told me he voted for it for a very good reason.

“People don’t have to accept things as they are,” Brain said. “Things can be better” in Camelot.

Let me tell you a little story about Camelot.

I spent 13 years in Philadelphia, which is roughly the size the new Valley city would be. The entire time I was there, no one, in any neighborhood, ever thought they were getting their fair share. And unless you had a fixer, a mob connection, or an envelope stuffed with cash, you didn’t get within half a block of anybody who could make sure your trash was picked up.

So the Valley city isn’t going to be a neat and manageable Walden Pond. You are not going to walk down Ventura Boulevard, bump into Ed the city manager at Aunt Bea’s soda fountain, and have him send someone out to trim your trees. Besides, to the extent that the gripe is taxation without representation, what happens when the West Valley starts carping about its tax dollars getting sucked across the plain to the East Valley? I see another secession down the road. East Camelot and West Camelot.

Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad has called the breakup of Los Angeles preposterous, and a good chunk of his money is going to go into the campaign to keep it whole. Maybe some sections of the city deserve better services, he said, but “putting a fence around San Pedro and the Valley” isn’t the answer.

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“We’re going to be the laughingstock of the nation,” he told me. “You cannot point to any city in world history that balkanized itself and succeeded.”

When I told Broad I met someone at Galpin Ford who complained that all the great cultural landmarks are south of Mulholland, not counting the pornography industry, his heart did not bleed for the guy.

“You can only have one great symphony, one great opera. Why do people go to Manhattan from all the other boroughs, Westchester and New Jersey? Because it’s the center where people of all backgrounds meet to enjoy sports, culture, and entertainment. Every city has to come together in one center.”

Yeah. And maybe it’ll even happen in L.A. one day.

At least Broad’s got a vision for this place. When I asked Jeff Brain if he had one for the new Valley city, he said it’s a work in progress.

“We’ve not yet laid out a vision for people,” he said of the movement that began in 1996. “But that will come.”

I promise I shall worry not

Let L.A. wither; let her rot

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I’ll meet you by the 405

In Camelot, in Camelot.

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Steve Lopez is on vacation. His column will resume May 1.


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