From May 31 through Nov. 10, 2002, Kevin Roderick monitored the media coverage and political machinations of that year’s campaign over secession of the Valley from Los Angeles. He posted his observations as Secession Watch at America’s Suburb.com. Those archives remain online in their original form at this link. To make the postings more easily searchable, they are also republished verbatim here. Links may be expired.
• In advance of the pro-secession committees filing their first campaign donation disclosures today, Associated Press does a set-up piece. No doubt the pro side will be way out-gunned by the anti’s, but who’s giving for secession is perhaps a bigger story (at least for the day) because of years of secrecy surrounding the movement. Today’s filing probably won’t answer that question because it only covers donations and spending to the current campaign committee.
• Join the parade: L.A. councilmen Tom LaBonge and Eric Garcetti are forming a campaign committee called I Love L.A. to fight secession. Councilmen Alex Padilla and Nick Pacheco already made the same move. Could it be that opposing the split has come to look like a fruitful way to raise money and name awareness over the hill? And there’s been one of those odd campaign office break-ins — or reported break-ins — at the West L.A. suite of the pro-secession side’s campaign adviser. Anne Dunsmore, who was George W. Bush’s California campaign finance chief, is in a locked building with guards and smart cards for entry. Only $30 cash missing and everything of value or political importance left untouched. Police won’t go beyond saying “it’s a rather unremarkable burglary.” Yawn.
• You knew this was coming. Among the new “signers” on the SFV “Declaration of Independence” website Tuesday were Bing Crosby, Jefferson Davis and N. Ostalgia.
• Seven hats are in the ring for mayor of the San Fernando Valley, at least until it comes time to pay the fee or submit nominating signatures. State assemblyman Keith Richman, who’s in for the duration, took out his papers Tuesday. Also on the county Registrar-Recorder’s site, the prospective 7th council district finally gets a candidate, and the ranks in the 3rd district (Chatsworth-Northridge-Canoga Park-Winnetka) swell to 10 including ex-assemblywoman Paula Boland.
• Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry journal, says the Daily News stands to gain in stature and ad dollars from legal notices if the new city is formed, but quotes several experts who feel neither the DN nor the Times would see a rush of new business. Instead, the papers are likely to absorb new staffing costs of covering a second major city bureaucracy and political milieu. The Times, which slashed its Valley staffing in the past two years and dropped remaking the local Metro section every night into a Valley edition, would probably have to re-post some reporters back to its skeleton Chatsworth newsroom. The story has some tidbits on the LAT-DN rivalry. The Times’ weekday circulation lead in the Valley is 151,000 to 127,000, and the LAT says it knows of 31,009 subscribers who take both papers.
• L.A. city hall “rips off” the $128 million difference between what the Valley pays in city taxes and receives in services, the Daily News’ ever-angry editorial writers contend today. This continues a DN theme that the Valley’s taxes should not go over the hill — meaning, presumably, that any section of a city should get only what its residents and businesses can pay for. No extra police in high crime areas if the tax base isn’t there, no rehab of older sewers or roads, nothing extra for schools with more problems. So if I’m Richard Katz (whose job is already hard enough), how do I convince poorer areas like Pacoima or North Hollywood that things won’t get worse for them under secession? If the Daily News has any influence in a new city, and it likely would, areas that pay less in taxes could expect their services to drop while the more affluent Ventura Boulevard communities and Northridge-Porter Ranch — which admittedly pay higher taxes — are rolling in cops and city services. Or does the principle somehow only apply to the city side of Mulholland?
• Here’s hoping the guy who shut down the L.A. Times building for several hours with a bomb threat on Monday does not have a Valley address…
• Through Monday, 63 hopefuls had taken out running papers with the county Registrar-Recorder. The roster doesn’t yet include the only declared candidates with major electoral experience, Keith Richman or Paula Boland — and the 7th council district slate is still blank — but filing doesn’t end until close of business on August 9. Eleven new prospects picked up their nominating petitions on Monday, but three dropped off the 9th district list. Wonder how many would-be candidates felt a chill when the initial salary for council members dropped from $75,000 a year (as Valley VOTE proposed) to $12,000 (as state law provides).
• More than 230 names were added over the weekend to the online version of the SFV “Declaration of Independence”, bringing the total to about 400. New signers include Edmund T. Peckham, retired dean of students at CSUN, and Valley-based journalist David DeVoss. Late add: 70 more names were added Monday, including secession leader Richard Close.
• Secession candidates are being urged in a memo by Jeff Brain of Valley VOTE to act publicly upbeat about the chances of breakup passing, Rick Orlov reports in his Daily News column. It’s a nice scoop. Orlov also surfaces what has become fairly apparent: former mayor Richard Riordan’s gambit to launch a new newspaper to tell only the good sides of the L.A. story — and to punish the Times and Daily News for assorted transgressions — is foundering. Plans for a daily had morphed some months ago into a scaled-back weekly, and even that seems in doubt now. Any hopes of getting into print and established in time to influence the Nov. 5 secession election — Riordan is from the “breakup is immoral” school — look far-fetched.
• Runaway development that is insensitive to the surroundings or to Valley history is one of the reasons that some Valleyites are ticked off and might vote for secession. The fight over Deerlake Highlands, in the hills above Chatsworth where a resort called Glover’s Twin Lakes operated in the 1930s, might attract even more angry votes to the break up.
• Cultural sidenote from Saturday night’s L.A. Philharmonic performance at the Hollywood Bowl: Valley awareness is at an all-time high. Guest conductor David Alan Miller, music director of the Albany symphony, opened by saying it was nice to be home, since he grew up in the San Fernando Valley. Mention of the Valley excited a small but audible ripple of claps and woo-hoos in the sea of Gershwin fans. He went on to ask, jokingly, if the Valley was still part of Los Angeles. Most of the audience chuckled, and no one was heard cheering or booing. Perhaps the fall campaign won’t be as bitter and divisive as feared…
• If you’re trying to stay informed on secession, don’t overlook the weblogs. In Blogland, the best for Valley issues on the anti side is Bob Morris’ Politics in the Zeros, which this weekend put up a new page of secession links (noting, correctly, that Secession Watch is “scrupulously nonpartisan.”) For a pro-breakup perspective, Valley Secession Fever by Bryan Fernandez keeps up with most everything and offers pointed commentary from the community of Arleta. The site sometimes stumbles, however, as on Sunday when it gave the Daily News props for reporting on anti-secession contributions by developer Ed Roski, then with no apparent basis alleged the Times has laid off Roski due to the paper’s Staples Center profit-sharing embarassment in 1999. Since the scandal, the paper has very publicly gone through a cathartic makeover that has brought in a new owner, CEO, publisher and editor, all of whom have renounced the mentality that led to the gaffe. Also, the Times has written so much on Roski and his influence through the years, it’s doubtful he considers the LAT a protector. More to the point, the sixth paragraph of the LAT’s contribution story two days ago (see July 26 below) makes the key point on Roski and secession:
By far the biggest contribution — $250,000 — came from Majestic Realty Co., headed by Ed Roski, one of the builders of the Staples Center and promoter of a plan for a hotel, retail and entertainment complex adjacent to the arena. Roski also was a principal in a now-dormant proposal to build a football stadium downtown. Hahn has embraced both projects and offered the city’s assistance…
• Valley secession’s key players have a record of opposing rent control, the L.A. Times’ Jocelyn Stewart reports. About a quarter of the city’s rent-controlled units are in the Valley. Controls could not be altered for 120 days after a new city forms, then politics can take over. Valley VOTE is urging pro-secession candidates to pledge to keep rent control, but activists are skeptical due to the histories on the issue of Jeff Brain, Richard Close and Richard Katz.
• The big Sunday package in the Daily News is a recounting of who gives to L.A. city political campaigns and how many of the biggest contributors also are fighting secession. It’s pretty much the same news as last week: big donations by lobbyists and real estate interests, and from labor groups and Hahn supporters. There’s a sidebar on Ted Stein of Encino, the nemesis of some homeowner groups for his developments in Chatsworth and Van Nuys. Also in the DN is a letter from Rick Rofman of Van Nuys saying no one has talked about how Los Angeles should change its name if secession prevails.
He suggests Halftown, Ca.
• A Sacramento Bee story on Hollywood ends with the publisher of California Political Week saying flatly, “Hollywood secession is dead.” If that’s the case, and it certainly looks to be true among voters, you have to wonder whether the Valley’s cause will be hurt by its continued association with Gene LaPietra and Hollywood.
• More than a hundred people signed the declaration of Valley independence in a rally at Sherman Oaks-Van Nuys Park, the Daily News says. Not an eye-opening turnout. The SFV Independence website, where people can keep signing, lists 163 names from Scott Goodman to Kim Marquardt, including eight signers each named Westmore and Stuber and four named Brain (five if both Kelsey Brain sigs are included). SFV Independence has added some flyers in Spanish to their site.
• What is it about secessionists and 1776? In a big-time gamble that could come back and bite them, breakup leaders unveil a “Declaration of Independence” that opens with a Jeffersonian flourish — When in the course of human events… — and goes on to complain of scorn and ridicule from a tyrannical City Hall, led by a modern-day King George, Mayor James Hahn. (Never mind that the Valley anointed Hahn mayor less than two years ago, with the Daily News’ blessing. Street repaving and other city services have rained down ever since, if only to head off secession). The document goes on:
We are withdrawing our consent to be governed by this distant and disrespectful Los Angeles City Hall…Let notice be served, let history take note, the people do hereby reclaim their government.
Question: will the strategy of wrapping secession in the imagery of the American Revolution inflame enough passions to be worth the inevitable jokes? Jay Leno must be licking his chops, but the crucial question is whether potential financial donors will be excited or appalled. Arnold Steinberg, the Calabasas-based political consultant who helped Bobbi Fielder and other Valley Republicans come to prominence, calls it “hyperbolic overstatement that probably trivializes the issues that need to be discussed.” The Daily News, meanwhile, cuts the would-be Framers more slack. For a possible reason why, see the Daily News entry for July 26, two items below this one.
• Forty-one candidates filed to run on the first official day of campaigning for elected office in the prospective city. The roster so far includes many first-timers and some gadflies. With no runoffs, the more people who file the easier it is to win — someone might get elected to the city council with just a few thousand votes.
• In an overwrought editorial aimed at rousing the troops, the Daily News reminds Valley folks that “this fight is about the basic democratic principle of political self-determination.” This is the same editorial page that a few years ago compared Valley secession to the American revolution: “What did those 13 puny colonies want? A little respect. A little recognition. A lot of services for their money.” (Quoted in The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb, pg. 187)
• David Shaw, the L.A. Times’ Pulitzer-winning media writer who reported a two-parter on secession coverage in May, is moving to the paper’s soon-to-be-revamped Sunday Calendar section as a media columnist. He’ll also contribute a column to the also-due-for-a-change Food section, presumably as an outlet for his strong views on wine and all things gourmet and French. A notice posted in the newsroom calls it Shaw’s idea to move off the front page after more than 27 years. His media reporting, however, has sometimes been criticized inside and outside the paper, and newsroom observers have been trying to gauge how well Shaw’s long and deliberative style was received by the new top management. Under previous regimes, his big stories — always a mix of reporting and criticism, though he was never officially labeled a critic — were green-lighted and edited directly by the chief editor. But Editor John S. Carroll, who arrived two years ago, altered that arrangement. Shaw won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1991 for his analysis of media coverage of the McMartin Pre School abuse case. In addition to the secession series, his recent work includes a series on Hollywood coverage.
• Both sides act satisfied after the county Board of Supervisors puts secession on the Nov. 5 ballot with language that includes the $127 million alimony payment to L.A., but that clarifies the tab doesn’t cost the Valley any more in taxes. Now candidates can begin to file to run for real. Here are the Daily News and L.A. Times versions. Meanwhile, Mayor Hahn’s L.A. United reports raising $1.9 million, including $120,000 from labor unions and some cash from major Valley business figures, for the fight. The LAT story is a bit meatier than the DN report. The SFV Independence Committee will file by next Wednesday, giving the public its first look at who is financing secession since the disclosure in 1998 that the Daily News was the biggest secret donor ($60,000). Also in today’s DN, another anti-secession coalition surfaces, this one made up of the League of Women Voters, Archdiocese of L.A., ACLU and NAACP among others. The story is from a debate between city council president Alex Padilla of Pacoima and Richard Katz, the former Democratic assemblyman from Sylmar, who is helping guide the secession campaign.
• “Life and Times,” the nightly news show on KCET Channel 28 in Los Angeles, went to the border between Pacoima and San Fernando to examine the potential influence of Magic Johnson’s opposition to secession — and the importance of African American and Latino voters. Hear the report via Real Audio or read the transcript.
• A seldom-spoken but powerful motivation behind the secession impulse — lament for the way things used to be — is on full display in a letter to New Times L.A. by Jerry England(last letter), a Chatsworth activist who is a candidate for council in the new city. England is head of the Chatsworth Equine Cultural Heritage Organization, a group that exemplifies the strain of Valley locals who long to roll back time, or at least keep what’s left of the old ways. There’s no better part of L.A. to see this sentiment than in Chatsworth, a historic corner of the Valley with century-old olive trees, horse trails and rocky crags where Hollywood legends like Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith made early movies.
• The second installment of Jim Ricci’s Secession Sketchbook in the L.A. Times California section observes with an amused air while a room full of seniors in Sherman Oaks listen to — and frequently interrupt — a forum on the issues. Sketchbook #1 ran July 18 (below).
• For a day at least, the campaign followed the script that secession strategists have hoped for. Assemblyman Keith Richman, the lone announced candidate for mayor of the Valley, went on the offensive, using the closed Northridge Recreation Center pool as the backdrop to accuse Mayor Jim Hahn of “conceit and condescension toward the Valley.” The Daily News has the story, minus the analysis that secession advocates are banking on dozens of office hopefuls like Richman to preach the breakup message and attract media attention to the cause. For now, the moderate Republican Richman is the closest thing to a standard bearer and the most accomplished campaigner of the bunch. Candidates may begin to file official papers to run after the Board of Supervisors formally puts secession on the Nov. 5 ballot, a move expected to occur today. The Daily News does a nice job setting up the Board action, which finds supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky again taking a stand that aids the secession side. Earlier he was a helpful voice on the LAFCO board as secession shuffled toward the ballot.
• The Civic Forum, a group hastily organized this year to put out neutral information on secession, has produced four half-hour TV programs for the city cable channel. They began airing in July and are available to watch online.
• The Christian Science Monitor’s Daniel B. Wood pokes around media coverage of secession and
homes in on this month’s L.A. Times Poll. Divorce advocates complain that the poll, which put a brake on their momentum, should have counted only the opinions of likely voters, not all registered voters. This would have made secession appear stronger and perhaps headed off defections. Poll director Susan Pinkus, however, says it was too early — four months ahead of the vote — to sample just the “likely’s.” The Times often polls registered voters but advocates think they got a raw deal anyway, and the Monitor article explores their suspicions about anti-secession leanings in the downtown newsroom. Wonder why the Valleyistas are so agitated? Larry Berg, sage of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Government, explains: “The reason no self-respecting politician wants to have his name in the (pro-secession) hat is that none of them think it will pass.”
LAT media critic David Shaw’s May 30-31 series on Times coverage
New Times looks at the Shaw series
• Mayor Hahn and the L.A. city council move to skew the ballot language against a Yes vote by adding fiscal impact language they hope will raise eyebrows. The county counsel agrees, but LAFCO officials (and secession boosters) insist it’s a crock. It goes before the Board of Supervisors Thursday. The Times take is inside California and the Daily News leads with it.
• Former mayor Riordan and Richard Close of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. (and Valley VOTE) go at it over the poverty issue on “Which Way LA” with Warren Olney on KCRW. Would secession hurt the poor? Listen with Real Audio.
• Nita Lelyveld’s Sunday piece in the LAT Magazine, which went online Monday afternoon, is one of the LAT’s first serious efforts during this campaign at evoking what makes the Valley different. So many dreams are wrapped up in secession, she writes, “satisfying them all would be a tall order.” She goes on: A lot of residents want the Valley to be a place that celebrates itself, instead of being continuously sneered at from over the hill. They see secession as an opportunity to redefine the Valley not as a bland suburban slice of Los Angeles but as something positive and distinct. They’re sick of being Los Angeles’ New Jersey. Lelyveld, relatively new to the paper, is one of five staffers assigned to write about secession. A trivia item: she notes that someone suggested “Valparaiso” as the name of a new Valley city, but doesn’t report the back story. The name was a joke put forth at a community gathering by a ringer — a San Francisco book reviewer — who came to the meeting as a lark.
• The Daily News editorial page goes off on, of all people, Larry Levine, a longtime Valley campaign strategist who is helping guide anti-secession efforts. One can only surmise there are old animosities at play here, and even then it’s a curiosity. The editorial snidely refers to Levine as a “big-bucks” consultant and lumps him in with people who oppose secession “without ever having given it serious consideration.” Actually, Levine’s role with the opposition is no surprise. He works mainly with Democrats, and most official Democratic figures — in the Valley and over the hill — are fighting secession. Levine’s son Lloyd won the Demo nomination in the 40th assembly district and will probably succeed ex-Speaker Bob Hertzberg as the mid-Valley’s rep in January. The DN’s Dana Bartholomew also does an amusing piece on how secession is viewed along Mulholland Drive, the de-facto border between the Valley and the city.
• Jeff Brain, the most public face of Valley secession, doesn’t come off too well in an L.A. Times profile. Kristina Sauerwein, part of the LAT’s secession team, rehashes questions about Brain’s tax liens, failure to vote and murky past of legal residency. The story surfaces what’s likely to be a new point of controversy: until recently Brain was registered as a voter of the hyper-conservative American Independent Party, which he explains as an inadvertent paperwork snafu — he meant to register as simply “independent.” Not well examined is whether Brain ought to be running this show, a valid question given the mounting feeling that the breakup movement is blowing its moment in the spotlight. In the Daily News, regular beat writer Harrison Sheppard sets up the upcoming secession calendar, which includes the official act Thursday placing breakup on the ballot – which will let candidates begin filing to run — and a “San Fernando Valley Independence Ball” for $100 a pop on August 2.
• Sunday roundup: The Daily News editorializes on the Valley’s poor not being served by city hall and
labels secession critics, Richard Riordan and Magic Johnson included, “hypocrites” for dinging the breakup movement on the poverty issue. Also in the DN, regular Op-ed voice Kimit Muston
blasts Alarcon as labor’s lapdog for moving to the anti-secession camp. And TV writer Joseph Honig offers a witty aside: Since most Americans don’t care a whit about secession, the Valley should join France as a tourist attraction — Americans just love to travel, love getting their passports stamped, love colorful, exotic notes in their wallets and are suckers for anything with a distinctly foreign flair. No humor today in the L.A. Times, where Op-ed columnist Frank Del Olmo, a product of Pacoima and CSUN, says Richard Alarcon helped his reputation and political future by siding with Los Angeles unity. The LAT also adds its two cents on the secession campaign’s stumbles. A magazine piece by staff writer Nita Lelyveld lightly looks at what Valley residents want, but it’s not posted online.
• In the San Fernando Valley Business Journal, Richard Katz of the pro-secession side and Jeff Daar, an attorney who leads one of the anti groups, make their arguments in dueling op-eds. Sister publication the L.A. Business Journal has a piece on confident secession opponents turning to focus on winning in the Valley, but click at your own risk: It’ll cost you $3 to read.
• The Jewish Journal looks at the early candidate lineup and finds it lacking — and not made up entirely of secession friends. Also, the L.A. Planning Report talks up boroughs with Eric Schockman, former policy director of the elected L.A. charter reform commission who worked on Hertzberg’s plan.
• The L.A. Times’ California section has a good day, led by the first “Secession Sketchbook” by James Ricci. Recently the LAT Magazine’s columnist, Ricci has a new assignment to file pieces looking behind the scenes at secession with a writerly eye. In the first, he went inside the fence at the historic Cascade where Owens Valley water arrives via the L.A. Aqueduct in Sylmar. He agrees with The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb that the Cascade’s dedication on Nov, 5, 1913 was the effective birthday of the modern San Fernando Valley. There’s also a decent backgrounder on how boroughs are floated as the traditional sop to outlying areas of the city.
• The L.A. Daily News, usually a default cheerleader for secession and the cause’s leaders, concedes in a page one story and an editorial that the campaign is sputtering. Curiously, the paper also chides secession guider Richard Close for saying he might sue to test the law that requires the breakup question to pass in both the Valley and the whole city. The law seems fair enough — all Los Angeles citizens have a vested interest at stake, so it’s different than a typical city incorporation where no one loses territory — but if its constitutionality is suspect, what’s wrong with vetting the statute in court? It seems the Daily News and Close had already called on Hahn to promise not to sue, so the paper was almost forced to call Close a hypocrite.
• Bill Boyarksy, the former L.A. Times columnist and city editor, picks up on an issue raised in The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb — that the most telling disparity in services and quality of life is not between the Valley and the rest of L.A. but between well-off areas of the Valley and neglected sections like Pacoima. Boyarsky’s Sunday Opinion pieceasks secessionists to prove they will do better by the poor than Los Angeles has, given that Valley business and political leaders have a record of ignoring Pacoima and areas like it. The writer is officially retired from the Times, but he’s writing a book on Jesse Unruh, the late intriguing political boss, and he comments on local issues with style and wisdom. Example: His piece in the Times on June 2 (no longer online)…On San Fernando Valley nights lately, if you have a long memory, you can almost sense Howard Jarvis’ ghost prowling the shopping centers and suburban neighborhoods….
• Smart minds are starting to think ahead to the day after Nov. 5. It looks more and more like Los Angeles will wake up that morning legally intact — but perhaps more cleaved than ever in some ways. All the political wounds and cultural slights of the campaign will be raw and painful, and the Valley will still be the Valley — which to many on the other side of the hill means oddball and inferior. In a fine Jewish Journal look-ahead, ex-Assembly Speaker (and secession foe) Bob Hertzberg warns of inflicting too many scars this summer and fall. “What is the point of stopping secession by scaring people to death? It is going to leave a city divided. It will be like World War II.” Hertzberg makes his own case for healing — and for boroughs, his pet project — on the Times op-ed page. Meanwhile, the Jewish Journal says that the Valley’s Jewish community largely opposes secession — a conclusion challenged by Valley VOTE’s Richard Close.
• No media coverage stood out, but State Sen. Richard Alarcon’s opting out of a run for Valley mayor — pleasing his friends in labor — is very bad news for breakup fans. It means no leading Hispanic voice will be raised in favor of seceding, and Hispanic residents are the Valley city’s largest population bloc. Alarcon spoke with love of the Valley at his press conference, but he observed that not so long ago it was an unfriendly place for minorities. Secession’s chief advocates have never shown an affinity for Latinos or for evening out the disparities seen across the Valley, and Alarcon cited history to explain his own mother’s — and by inference other Latinos’ — skepticism of secession leaders. Alarcon leaving the race dashes hopes for a high-impact known quantity at the head of the secession ballot (see Hertzberg, Fielder, Katz). With this and other recent disappointments, momentum has swung so sharply to the No side that the pressure to dangle boroughs as a sweetener for the Valley is off. The secession side needs a big inning of some kind — and quick — or this game will be called early.
• The Valley’s top industry group, a force since 1949 known for putting practical business sense over Valley chauvinism, chooses to keep its finger up in the wind and not commit before September (and more polls, presumably). The Valley Indstry and Commerce Assn. could be viewed as a bellwether on confidence about secession, more so than the United Chambers of Commerce, which endorsed the breakup as expected. Good for Howard Fine of the L.A. Business Journal for asking the question, though it’s unclear if VICA members will quietly give aid and cash, as leader David Fleming has.
• New L.A. Times Poll bodes ill for secession on a few counts. Breakup leads in the Valley but not comfortably and gets stomped over the hill. That equals a citywide loss even if Valley voters flood the polls — and there’s no proof yet that they care enough to do so. There’s still time — but not much — for the cityhood movement to catch fire, but the trend is starting to chill potential supporters. Hollywood secession being DOA (61-24 against even in Hollywood) doesn’t help. And forget Valley VOTE’s claim that the poll shows Latinos are pro-breakup. The numbers are squishy as Jello: the error margin on that subset is a whopping 9 pointsdue to the way the poll was sampled.
Mickey Kaus tries to keep hope alive in Slate.