Champion of Valley Secession Passes Control to New Leader

Times Staff Writer

After spearheading the drive for San Fernando Valley secession for seven years, Jeff Brain stepped down Monday night as president of Valley VOTE.

"I'm very proud of what we've achieved in the Valley and in Los Angeles," Brain told members of Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment at their monthly meeting in Mission Hills.

The secession measure that Valley VOTE championed received support from 50.7% of Valley voters in the election last November but failed 2-1 citywide. A Hollywood secession measure lost both in Hollywood and in Los Angeles. State law requires approval by the breakaway area and the city as a whole for a cityhood measure to pass.

"No one has worked harder for the Valley than Jeff," said Richard Close, who was reelected the group's chairman. "He has made personal and financial sacrifices for the Valley."

Longtime Valley advocate Joe Vitti was elected president. Although cityhood remains a long-term goal, Vitti said, he wants to work with Los Angeles City Council members to improve the quality of life in the Valley.

He and other members said they also will consider trying to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District by carving one or two new districts in the Valley.

City Council elections earlier this month showed little support for reviving the cityhood movement. Leaders of last year's campaign, former Assemblywoman Paula Boland and businessman Walter Prince, lost their bids for a seat representing the 12th District, a northwest Valley area that was the center of support for secession.

Instead, City Hall veteran Greig Smith and Julie Korenstein, a longtime Los Angeles school board member, will face off in May for the position. They got the most votes in the six-candidate race to replace retiring Councilman Hal Bernson, who was prevented by term limits from seeking reelection.

Close, however, dismissed the notion that their victories had anything to do with secession, noting that Smith and Korenstein had raised the most money.

"It's becoming more and more clear that in local elections, the candidates with the biggest war chests win the elections," Close said before the meeting Monday. "It's not surprising they won."

As a top aide to Bernson, Smith raised over $400,000, more than three times what Korenstein collected.

Despite secession's defeat, the campaign was successful in spurring City Hall to pay more attention to the Valley and other neighborhoods, according to Mayor James K. Hahn. He has vowed to reshape city government so it is more responsive to residents and more effective at providing basic services.

"I heard loud and clear, from Hollywood, from the Valley and from every other L.A. neighborhood, that you want a city government where quality services are available to all residents," Hahn said during a meeting with secessionists after the Nov. 5 election.

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