(7/02/2002) Poll Analysis: L.A. Breakup Proposal

With just four months to the November 5th election, Los Angeles city voters have the task of deciding how to vote on two initiatives on secession, that is, voting for or against the San Fernando Valley and/or Hollywood breaking away from the city. But, in order for these two areas to secede from Los Angeles, the voters in the Valley and Hollywood must pass it in their areas with a simple majority plus receive a simple majority vote from the city at large. If that doesn't happen, then the measures fail. According to a new Los Angeles Times poll, city voters, overall, are not willing to see these two areas secede from L.A. However, in both secession areas, the voters are of different minds. On the one hand, Hollywood voters especially don't want to leave L.A., and on the other, the Valley voters especially do.

In follow-up interviews with poll respondents, Hollywood (and city) voters say they don't want Hollywood to break away from L.A. -- they feel that Hollywood is Los Angeles and Los Angeles is Hollywood. In Hollywood the measure was supported by 24% of its voters, while 61% say they would vote against the breakup. Citywide,* 25% of voters say they would vote for Hollywood seceding from L.A., and 59% would vote against it.

San Fernando Valley Secession

The Hollywood secession movement is a fairly new idea compared to the San Fernando Valley's movement. The Valley voters have talked about seceding for years because of their feelings of neglect from city government, poor quality of services and their perception that they are not getting their fair share of tax revenues. As compared to Hollywood, Valley voters are more enthused about the prospects of breaking away from L.A. Most demographic groups in the Valley are looking forward to living in their own city. By the way, 57% of them think the new city should be called "San Fernando Valley." Fifty-two percent of Valley voters say they would vote for secession if the election were held today, 37% would vote against it, 6% haven't heard enough to say and 5% are undecided. Considering the length of time left until the election and not much campaigning to date, the number of voters with no opinion is comparatively small. (Although the vote in November includes the Valley in the L.A. city vote, the vote of non-Valley Los Angeles is more solid in its opposition to a new San Fernando Valley city -- 29% for secession, 53% against.)

Makeup of the Valley Vote on Secession

One of the main issues driving Valley voters to secession is their perception that their area of the city does not receive their fair share of city services and attention. When this question was put to the respondents in the survey, the Valley electorate were the only ones citing their section of the city as the one being shortchanged. More than two out of five Valley voters say the city is unfair to the SFV (39% in the East Valley and 45% in the West Valley), while 28% of all city voters mentioned South Central as the part of the city as being treated unfairly (17% cited the Valley). Among those in the Valley who say their area is being treated unfairly, there is strong sentiment to break away from the city (66%). One in eight thought all sections of the city were being treated fairly. When the Valley voters were asked why they favored secession, they mentioned that they wanted smaller government, a fair return on tax revenues paid in, more control over their city's destiny, better access to city services, an independent San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles is just too big.

The following subgroups in the city of Los Angeles are showing the strongest sentiments for secession in the Valley:

* The West Valley voters -- 59% support breaking away from L.A., 32% are opposed, while 45% of those living in the East Valley would support it, and 42% would vote against it.

* Roughly two-thirds of Republican voters are in favor of secession, a quarter are opposed.

* About two-thirds of self-described conservative voters, compared to just 35% of self-identified liberals would vote for secession. Three out of 5 political moderates support secession.

* Slightly more than 3 out of 5 affluent Valley voters (households earning more than $60,000) like the idea of breaking away from L.A., while only 40% of the less affluent voters (less than $40,000) want to break away (vs. 45% who oppose it).

* More men than women voters living in the Valley are in favor of secession (56%-37% for men vs. 48%-37% for women).

* Race is not driving the secession movement, geography is. This is seen by white and Latino voters expressing almost the same point of view -- they are both in favor of the Valley becoming a separate city. Among white voters it is 54%-38% and among Latino voters, it is 52%-33%.

* Fifty-three percent of voters who have a child in the public school (Los Angeles Unified School District) want secession, a third are opposed to it. Interestingly, 46% of Valley voters believe that a new city would also mean opting out of the L.A. Unified School District. Just about a quarter knew that they would still be a part of the school system. But when Valley voters were told their schools would still be a part of L.A. schools, two-thirds of the Valley voters say it would make no difference.

Interestingly, if Valley voters moved to the Valley from other parts of the city of L.A., they were not as enthusiastic in supporting secession. Also, the longer Valley voters lived in the SFV, the more they supported the secession movement. Conversely, those voters living in the Valley less than 10 years, were virtually split in their opinion (42% for, 43% against). No matter the length of time voters citywide lived in L.A., they were all opposed to a new Valley city.

Among the Valley and L.A. voters who are against secession, they were asked why they were against it. They each mentioned the city is fine the way it is, it would create conflict and confusion, higher costs all around, loss of tax revenues and would create more bureaucracy.

The following subgroups in the city of Los Angeles are showing the strongest sentiments for or against secession:

For:

* 50% of Republicans (55% conservative Republicans and 47% of moderate Republicans are voicing support).

* 52% of independents or declined-to-state support secession.

* Male voters less than 40 years old are in favor of secession (46%), 43% are opposed.

* 44% of voters between the ages of 30 and 44 are backing secession.

Against:

* 52% of voters living on the Westside oppose Valley secession as do 53% of voters living in the southern part of the city, 55% of voters in Central L.A. and 55% of voters in the other secession area, Hollywood.

* 57% of Jewish voters are against secession (Jews in the Valley are also against secession)

* Nearly half of all union households oppose secession, 34% support it.

* A majority (52%) of self-identified liberal voters oppose secession, a third support it.

* 54% of registered Democrats would vote ‘No' on Valley secession.

* Male and female voters both oppose the break up of the city, but there is a slight gender gap: men 39%-50% vs women 37%-44%.

* It doesn't matter the education level of the voters, from less than high school to college graduate or more -- each group opposes secession.

* White voters are slightly against secession, 43%-47%, but 53% of blacks and 45% of Latinos are against it. Asians (although too small a number to break out) are also against secession. (The poll was taken before a coalition of African American leadership came out in strong opposition to both the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession initiatives.)

Other Issues on Secession

The most important problem Los Angeles voters are facing in their community is crime at 13%, followed by bad schools at 9% and traffic at 7%. For Valley voters it is crime at 16%, followed by bad schools at 12% and secession at 6%. Hollywood and the Westside voters also say traffic (12%) is the most important problem. More than half of the city voters do not believe that secession is the answer in solving the problems confronting their community, but conversely, 52% of Valley voters do (albeit, 43% partly and 9% completely). About half of the city and Valley voters also believe that Valley secession will have a negative impact on the city, yet, 41% of those Valley voters would still vote for secession.

There is some vulnerability behind the Valley support. First the anti-secessionists claim that taxes will go up. The Poll asked if either the Valley and/or Hollywood broke away from the city, would that cause their taxes to go up or down or remain the same. Almost 2 out of 5 Valley voters believe their taxes will go up (and 29% of these voters would still vote for secession, 61% against, 10% undecided), 43% say their taxes will remain the same (and 71% of these voters would opt for secession). Hardly anyone thinks their taxes will go down -- no matter where you live in the city.

The pro-secession movement says L.A. is not business friendly, too many rules and regulations and permits to get. They say a smaller city will be cognizant of the problems of business. Valley voters somewhat agree with that argument. Almost 2 out of 5 Valley voters believe the new city would be friendlier to business, 44% think relations would remain the same, 10% believe the new city would be less friendly to business. Three in 10 L.A. voters think the new city would be friendlier to business, 13% worse and 48% about the same.

The biggest issue for Valley voters is quality of services. Valleyites are the ones in the city that feel neglected and not getting their fair share. This is reflected by nearly half of Valley voters being convinced that services would improve if their area became an independent city. More than a third of L.A. city voters believe the quality of services would also improve if the Valley became its own city. Twenty-eight percent of Valley voters and a third of city voters say services would remain the same. Among those in the Valley who think quality of services in the new city would remain the same, would virtually split their vote for and against secession. About a fifth of each group say the services would worsen.

More than a third of Valley voters think the quality of emergency services, for such things as fires and earthquakes, would improve if there was a new Valley city, 19% worse and 39% about the same. In L.A., 28% of voters believe the services would improve, 21% say emergency services would worsen and 42% think they would remain about the same. Among those in the Valley that say services would remain the same, 47% would vote for secession, 40% would vote against it.

One further issue the Poll measured was the likelihood of increased utility rates from the Department of Water and Power if the Valley is successful in breaking away from the city. The state commission (LAFCO) that determined the feasibility of the SFV and Hollywood becoming separate cities say these new cities would pay the same rate for utilities as Los Angeles. The city of L.A., on the other hand, believes the independent cities should pay a higher rate. Most voters believe that the new, independent cities would be paying a higher rate. More than 3 out of 5 Valley and city voters say it is likely that the new city's rates would go up. And among the Valley voters who say it is likely, 41% would still vote for secession, while 47% say they would vote against cityhood.

After hearing some of the arguments and issues that will be used in both campaigns, the Poll asked the vote question again:

Now that you have heard more about the issues, if the November 5th election were being held today, would you vote for or against the initiative on the ballot that would allow the san Fernando Valley to break away from the city of Los Angeles to form a separate city?

Basically, the vote stayed the same in both Los Angeles and the Valley.

Other Findings

Most voters in L.A. and even in the SFV think things are going well in the city as a whole, and think things, even more so, are going well in their neighborhoods. In the Valley, 56% of voters think things are going well in L.A., 40% believe they are going badly (compared to 62%-33% for the overall city). Among those voters in the Valley who gave the city a negative mark, 64% of them are voting for secession. But, among those who believe L.A. is on the right course, the vote is split (46%-45%). About 4 out of 5 each in the city and the Valley say things are going well in their neighborhoods.

Hollywood Secession

Los Angeles voters aren't interested in seeing Hollywood go its own way, and nowhere near a majority of Hollywood voters are convinced that independent cityhood is for them, according to the latest study by the Los Angeles Times Poll. In the minds of many, Hollywood and Los Angeles are synonymous, and the possible benefits of being a part of an autonomous Hollywood city with its famous name and famous sign are outweighed by the potential pitfalls.

With four months still to go before the vote and no major campaign yet underway, the survey found only minimal support for an independent Hollywood anywhere in the city. By more than two to one, registered voters citywide who were read a summary of arguments for and against Hollywood secession said they would vote down a breakaway proposal if the election were held today. Hollywood voters were also adamant -- rejecting secession by a resounding 61% to 24%. For a secession movement such as this one to succeed, a simple majority favorable vote is required citywide, as well as a majority favorable vote in the affected area.

More than two thirds of the voters in the Hollywood area said they were aware that their own neighborhood would be included in the new city if the vote were to go that way in November, but only a third said they are pleased about it. That group is slightly outnumbered by less happy neighbors -- about four in ten said they are upset about being included, and about a quarter aren't sure what to make of it.

Those who voted against independent cityhood cited a variety of reasons: 21% say the city works just fine as it is; 15% said that a new city would have an insufficient tax base to provide basic city services; 14% cite the high costs involved in breaking away; 13% say it would mean a loss of tax revenue; 11% said they like living in the city of L.A. and 10% said that Hollywood is synonymous with Los Angeles and it makes no sense to break away.

In Hollywood, unlike the San Fernando Valley where local activists have long complained that the area isn't getting its fair share of city services and attention, voters are not dissatisfied with the status quo. Only one in 10 said they feel that Hollywood gets an unfair portion of city services and attention. A quarter of Hollywood voters said that the South-Central area is treated most unfairly, while 19% said all areas are treated fairly and another quarter aren't sure. Only 5% of voters in the Hollywood area indicated they agree that the San Fernando Valley isn't getting its fair share, compared to the 42% of Valley voters who see themselves as slighted.

Hollywood voters, like those on the Westside of the city, are largely satisfied with the way things are going in their community these days. In Hollywood, when asked what is the biggest problem facing their community today, mentions of traffic (12%) compete with complaints about crime (11%) and bad local schools (11%) among voters. However, and this may point the way to the heart of the matter, Hollywood voters agreed by nearly two to one that a new city was not the solution to whatever they said was their most sticky neighborhood problem.

The survey also found Hollywood voters skeptical that there would be any upside to the idea of creating an independent city out of what is now a mix of poor and rich neighborhoods without much middle ground. More than seven in ten said they think the level of emergency services would either stay the same or deteriorate if a new Hollywood city were formed. Similarly, more than seven in ten Hollywood voters said they think it is very likely that residents of either breakaway city would pay higher costs to the Department of Water and Power than they do now as residents of Los Angeles and about six in ten said they think their taxes would rise; a similar proportion posit that a new Hollywood city would be no friendlier to business than the city of Los Angeles; and again six in ten indicated doubt that regular city services such as tree trimming and road maintenance would improve.

Echoing the idea that Hollywood and Los Angeles are synonymous, Hollywood voters are also somewhat more likely to agree with this quote from Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn -- "Los Angeles is the sum of its communities and dividing it into two or more different cities would destroy its sense of itself and its place in the world" -- than are residents of the San Fernando Valley. Forty-two percent of Hollywood voters agree and 51% disagree, compared with 34% to 59% in the Valley.

The survey also did not uncover much agreement with the idea that breakaway movements, if successful, would effect a shift in the politics of race in Los Angeles. Only a third of Hollywood voters predicted that the breakup of Los Angeles would result in more political power for Latinos, while 53% said there would be no change. These numbers are slightly higher in Hollywood than for city voters overall -- 47% of city voters predicted no change, and 32% said that Latino political power would increase under those circumstances.

Even fewer city voters see African American Angelenos benefiting from a city break-up. Just about two in ten said they think black political power would increase in either of the two areas, and Hollywood residents agreed in similar proportions.

Some demographics of Hollywood secession:

* Voters who live in the San Fernando Valley are the most supportive of Hollywood secession (35% for, 47% against), especially those living on the west side of the Valley (38% for, 45% against.) Pro-secession Valley voters also support Hollywood secession by 57% to 24%.

* 41% citywide voted against both secession proposals, 19% voted for both, 12% voted for the Valley but against Hollywood, and 3% voted for Hollywood but against the Valley.

* White (56% to 28%), black (59% to 20%), and Latino (59% to 25%) voters citywide oppose Hollywood secession.

* 64% of Democrats citywide would vote against Hollywood secession, compared to 63% of independents, and 49% of Republicans.

The Borough Alternative

Is there an alternative to secession? The LA City council is currently considering a borough proposal to place on the ballot in November as an alternative to secession. A borough system would allow greater local control over municipal services such as street repair and garbage collection and some local zoning while reserving the most important decisions for the central city government.

Just over half of Hollywood voters, 47% of San Fernando Valley voters, and 52% of voters citywide said they approve of a the city council placing a borough proposal on the ballot in November. However, Hollywood voters were split 37% to 40% against voting for such a proposal if it were on the ballot and the election was held that day, and only 36% citywide said they'd vote for the so far hypothetical borough plan. Valley voters said they would vote against the proposal 48% to 29%. These figures could easily change as more details of such a proposal were made clear.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll contacted 1,291 registered voters in the city of Los Angeles by telephone June 20-28. The margin of sampling error for the overall city sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In order to increase the sample size of the San Fernando Valley voters, Hollywood voters, Latino voters living in the San Fernando Valley and African American voters living in the city, the main sample was supplemented to the following totals:

* 576 SFV voters (margin of sampling error of +/-3 percentage points);

* 120 Hollywood voters (+/-9 points);

* 242 Latinos voters in the city, including 119 living in the SFV (city Latinos have a margin of error of +/-6 points, SFV Latinos +/-9 points);

* 169 African American voters (+/-8 points).

The samples were then weighted to their proportionate share in the city. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city of Los Angeles. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education, registration and area of city. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Asian Americans were interviewed as part of the entire sample but there were not enough Asian voters to break out as a separate subgroup.

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