INTERNATIONAL NEWS: PR doyens enlisted as LA's secession battleheats up

Residents of Los Angeles know that the sprawling metropolis is really a number of smaller locales linked under one name. Now three of those areas - Hollywood, the harbor, and San Fernando Valley - are moving closer to making a legal split with LA and forming cities of their own.

Residents of Los Angeles know that the sprawling metropolis is really a number of smaller locales linked under one name. Now three of those areas - Hollywood, the harbor, and San Fernando Valley - are moving closer to making a legal split with LA and forming cities of their own.

The volatile issue has powerful lobbyists on both sides, planning multimillion dollar public affairs campaigns.

San Fernando Valley, the section of LA North of the Santa Monica Mountains, is closest to winning its goal, with the issue expected to be on this year's November 5 ballot.

Valley secessionist efforts, spearheaded by grassroots group Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment (Valley VOTE), have hired Goddard Claussen Porter Novelli (GCPN) in what many expect to be a $2 million-$3 million effort. GCPN is best known in California for its work helping to defeat Clinton's health plan in 1994.

Anti-secessionist forces, headed by LA Mayor James Hahn, are expected to raise $5 million, and have enlisted the help of veteran political consultants Bill Wardlaw, Kam Kuwata, and Bill Carrick. Wardlaw served as California campaign chair for Clinton/Gore in 1992 and 1996, and currently heads opposition efforts through the newly formed LA United. Kuwata is a longtime consultant who has helped clients such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The as-yet unnamed city - popular options range from San Fernando Valley to Camelot - would have ownership of most parks, police stations, fire stations, and libraries within its boundaries, as well as the Van Nuys airport. Water and power would remain with LA, but prices would be regulated.

In return, the San Fernando Valley would pay Los Angeles $55.8 million in "alimony

over a 20-year period.

The new city would be the sixth largest in the country, and would have 1.35 million residents.

Proponents of the secession plan are focusing on the idea that smaller government is better for all constituents.

"This is not a case of 'white flight,'

said Valley VOTE executive board member Joe Vitti, referring to the perception that the valley has little ethnic diversity. Minorities "are the groups that are most disenfranchised, so they will benefit if they have more voice in a smaller city."

Opponents, however, are focusing on the message that the new city would take away from LA's economic strength.

"It means more bureaucracy, more politicians, fewer resources, and fewer services,

said Mayor Hahn in a press statement.

The November ballot will feature a race for mayor and 14 council seats for the new government.

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