“Save your fundraising mailing lists, for the San Fernando Valley shall rise again.”  For now, secession has failed.  In the November 2002 elections, a referendum to separate the Valley from the City of Los Angeles and to create the City of San Fernando Valley passed 51 to 49 percent in the Valley but lost 67 to 33 percent in the total Los Angeles vote.  “My reaction is, the Valley won,” said Richard Close, one of several leaders of the Valley secession movement.  For Close, the narrow win in the Valley was “a moral victory.”  Keith Richman, a Republican state assemblyman from Granada Hills in the Valley, felt much the same way.  He would have been mayor of the new city, had it been created.  Out of a field of ten, he received nearly 53 percent of the vote.  The second-highest vote recipient received less than 12 percent.

An analysis of the election and of exit polls reveals two inescapable facts: First, as long as the entire City of Los Angeles is allowed to vote on the secession of the Valley, the creation of a separate Valley city is doomed; second, white residents of the Valley voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession.  The first point is being discussed at length publicly.  The second point is usually mentioned only in private conversations.

The Valley is a cash cow for the City of Los Angeles.  Some months before the election, a state commission decreed that, if the Valley were successful in its secession drive, it would have to pay Los Angeles $129 million in alimony.  This created one of the ironies of the campaign.  Mayor James Hahn and the powerbrokers in Los Angeles, who proclaimed they were for a “united Los Angeles,” told the poorer parts of the city that, should the Valley secede, they would be robbed of revenues with a resulting loss of essential services.  The L.A. forces then went over the hill into the poorer parts of the Valley and told the people there that they could not survive without the support of Los Angeles.  

Anti-secessionist rallies featured all the usual suspects—city-hall insiders, downtown business interests, black and Latino “community leaders,” public-employee unions, and rent-control advocates.  They all feared that the public trough would be downsized.  Some of the suspects were apartment-dwelling old folks from the Valley.  They had been told repeatedly by the L.A. propaganda machine that, should the Valley separate, they would be living on the streets, because the new city would end rent control.  For a while, it looked as if a schism might develop among blacks.  Secessionists argued that, without the Valley, blacks in Los Angeles would have far greater power.  Several prominent black figures began to suggest that it might not be a bad idea to let the Valley go,
and a few of them even mentioned starting a secession movement of their own and creating a separate city out of South-Central Los Angeles.  “In a new L.A.,” said Geoffrey Garfield, a black supporter of secession, “the voting age population of African Americans in Los Angeles will double, thereby doubling the political power of the African American community.”  The flirtation with the secessionists was short-lived, however.  The thought of losing some of the largesse provided by the taxpayers of the Valley quickly trumped every-thing else.

“Secession is bad for the African-American community and all people of color,” Mayor Hahn told the Urban Affairs Forum.  “The African-American community will be left behind with less clout in Sacramento, less clout in Washington. . . . We will be left behind in a city that has been financially ruined.”  Herb Wesson, a black state assemblyman, argued that Los Angeles used its clout as the nation’s second-most-populous city to secure $400 million in federal poverty-relief money.  “I don’t know if they would come up with $400 million if we were not the second-largest city,” declared Wesson.  And Norman Johnson, executive director of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, claimed that “A breakup of the city would cause damage in South Los Angeles.”  This was evidently enough for the Greater Los Angeles African-American Chamber of Commerce; the Rev. Cecil Murray of First AME Church; Juanita Tate of Concerned Citizens of South Los Angeles; Geraldine Washington, president of the local chapter of the NAACP; and dozens of other black civic, political, and religious leaders, who declared that they would stand united against secession.

Mayor Hahn and his L.A. United organization outspent their counterparts, Valley VOTE (Voters Organized Toward Empowerment) nine to one.  Those who fund city political campaigns and do business with the City of Los Angeles contributed most of the money to L.A. United.  Ed Roski, Jr., one of the developers of Staples Center, donated $250,000; real-estate mogul Eli Broad gave $102,000; Jerry Perenchio of Univision contributed $100,000.  The L.A. Arena Co., in which Philip Anschutz has a major interest, donated $50,000.  Anschutz is now negotiating with the city to build a concert hall, a football stadium, and a hotel.

As long as the Valley produces far more in taxes for the city than it consumes in services, and as long as downtown business interests, racial factions, and public-employee unions can raise money and marshal their forces, the Valley will lose a citywide vote.  Recognizing this, secessionists are now contemplating waging a battle in court to overturn the provision in state law requiring an entire city to vote on a secession petition rather than only that portion of a city wishing to separate.  They may also lobby the state legislature to enact a law that would allow a Valley-only vote on the question of secession and independent cityhood.  

“We sent a loud message,” said Jeff Brain, the president of Valley VOTE.  “But it was only Chapter 1.”  Despite Brain’s bravado, the election could be the final chapter.  A lawsuit would be enormously expensive, and the chances of the secessionists prevailing in court are remote.  An even more daunting task would face Valley VOTE lobbyists in Sacramento.  The state government and the legislature are controlled by Democrats, whose pet constituencies include all the usual suspects.

Moreover, a dramatic change in Valley demographics suggests that the secession movement came too late.  Even if the secessionists prevail in court or the legislature, they might not be able to win a majority of the local vote next time around.  Since 1990, nearly 130,000 whites have moved out of the Valley, and more than 180,000 Latinos have moved in.  With the U.S.-Mexican border wide open and President Bush promoting yet another amnesty for illegal aliens, there is no reason to think that the trend will not continue.  In another decade, it is likely that whites will be a minority in the Valley, an area where, as recently as the 1960’s, they made up more than 90 percent of the population.  Latinos now account for one third of the Valley’s population; blacks, another eight percent; and Asians, five percent.

Exit polls and surveys conducted by the Valley’s newspaper of record, the Daily News, and by the Los Angeles Times clearly suggest that nonwhites in the Valley are overwhelmingly against secession.  Those who do support secession argue that local control would increase services in poor neighborhoods.  “If the Valley controlled its own money, maybe we could tend to the roads and graffiti and make all the neighborhoods a little better,” said Fred Plascencia, a Latino resident of Canoga Park.  

By contrast, the same polls and surveys suggest that whites are overwhelmingly in favor of secession, with self-described liberal Democrats the only exceptions.  “I distrust the anti-progressive forces behind secession,” said William Cartwright, a TV editor from Encino.  “I feel like a citizen of the city at large.”  More typical of whites is Irvin Park, a conservative Republican from Northridge, who settled in the Valley after fighting in World War II.  “I’m just not happy with what I’m seeing,” said the active secessionist.  “I’d like to move someplace where there’s a little, small town, probably Oregon or Washington or someplace like that.  I think the Valley is overgrown.” 

Echoing Park’s sentiments is Virginia Tucker, a Republican who has lived in the Valley since the 1950’s.  A strong supporter of secession, she has watched her Van Nuys neighborhood turn from a safe and friendly “paradise” into a dirty, crime-ridden slum.  “Gangs are getting out of hand,” she laments.  “Graffiti is everywhere.  When I moved here, there was no graffiti.  People took care of their yards.  It was just a more friendly neighborhood.  We’re so multicultural now, you know.  There are language barriers.  So many new people are coming in now that a lot of them hesitate to get friendly.”  Nor do they get friendly with one another.  Van Nuys is now rocked by warfare between gangs of Mexicans and gangs of Salvadorans, and drug dealing, robbery, and murder are on the rise.  The miscreants in Tucker’s neighborhood of the 1950’s stole hubcaps and drag-raced on Van Nuys Boulevard.

In the wake of the vote, Mayor Hahn has rediscovered the Valley.  In mid-December of last year, ignoring the threat of overcast skies and traffic, he negotiated Cahuenga Pass and crossed the Santa Monica Mountains to emerge unscathed onto the broad plain of the San Fernando Valley.  Speaking before a crowd of 300 at the annual meeting of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, Hahn vowed to respond to the needs of the Valley.  “Gone are the days of a Los Angeles government bunkered down in the marbled corridors of City Hall,” he said.  “Today, more than ever, residents and business owners have a voice in shaping the direction of their neighborhoods. . . . The debate on whether or not the city of Los Angeles should remain one city changed Los Angeles and has changed the way the city does business.”

Wanna bet?