Ron Kaye: Cities need to work together

Have you ever wondered why the Metro subway ends at the opening to the San Fernando Valley, Burbank and Glendale, or why the Gold Line turns south in Pasadena and heads toward downtown Los Angeles?

Or why freeways through the valley region don’t connect in all directions at interchanges, or why there are only two lanes east and west at the heavily trafficked 101-134 freeway interchange?

I’ll tell you why: We don’t have the clout to get what our communities want and need from the downtown-centric L.A. power structure.

That’s what led L.A. residents in the San Fernando Valley to try to form their own city, which would have been the nation’s sixth-largest, safest, richest and most integrated — a city that would have found a lot in common with the towns around it on issues of transportation, economic development and airport operations, among others.

Valley secession may have failed, but efforts to bring together the region to work for a fair share of public resources have never let up, finally leading a year ago to a joint powers agreement among the county and cities of Burbank, Glendale, Santa Clarita, San Fernando and L.A. to form the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments.

The council is now gearing up for action with the appointment last month of Robert Scott, a valley secession advocate and longtime leader of the Valley Economic Alliance, which for nearly 20 years has worked to promote the region’s economy.

“Working together, we can achieve some things that we haven’t been able to do before,” Scott said. “We have so much more in common with each other than with L.A. City Hall. We’ll have the clout of a bigger entity and the agility of the smaller cities to move quickly.”

Similar quasi-governmental agencies have been operating for years in most parts of the metropolitan area, obtaining grants to fund major projects and planning studies, as well as to provide lobbying pressure on regional transportation and other agencies.

Hard times have a way of making even government agencies open to change, especially when severe cost-cutting measures are needed to balance budgets.

Economists point to metropolitan areas like Chicago and Portland, Ore., as models of how to attract new industries and businesses by utilizing the resources of the entire region, instead of every community competing against one another to move jobs from one town to another without actually stimulating real growth.

Already, Burbank and Glendale have agreed to share costs of helicopter support services and are looking to expand cooperation to other areas and include Pasadena where possible.

“Sharing our resources allows for economies of scale that let us all do more with less,” said Burbank Deputy Manager Joy Forbes.

She sees the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments as an important step forward for the region, noting the first joint project is an Interstate 5 corridor economic development effort that at the least will have the cities to “make sure we’re not losing jobs.”

“L.A. is the big dog, but it can’t rule the day in the Council of Governments,” she says. “We are starting to work together, working collectively, to coordinate and plan solutions for some of our common problems.”

The most obvious common interest is in getting a larger share of transportation dollars to link the Gold Line through Burbank and Glendale, to the end of the subway in North Hollywood and the Orange Line Busway to Woodland Hills.

Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird said he believes the council is in an “experimental stage” where it needs to develop a work plan that will help build trust between officials of the various cities, especially between L.A. and the smaller cities.

He pointed out that it took nearly four years to work out a governance structure so that no one has “greater or lesser power,” meaning all initiatives will require consensus.

“When the city of L.A. is involved, there is a lot of suspicion and fear that it is going to dominate everything,” he said, “and suspicion on L.A.’s part of losing its power to smaller cities with different agendas.”

Starbird helped form the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments years ago that brought together 31 cities, and that has proven to be instrumental in getting the funds for the Gold Line extension to Pasadena and approval for plans to reach farther east.

“It shows what can be achieved for everyone’s benefit if cities work together across their boundaries,” he said. 

“The real challenge now is for us to build consensus and trust so we can move forward and tackle transportation, and even issues like housing and even the problems created by the early release of so many parolees,” he said. “I’m anxious to see how this works out, to see if we can get the clout we need to get things done.”

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