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Adios, San Fernando Valley

from the magazine

Adios, San Fernando Valley

The drive to break up Los Angeles into smaller cities is gaining ground Autumn 2001
Politics and law
Economy, finance, and budgets
Cities

The odds now appear better than even that the San Fernando Valley, home to 1.3 million of Los Angeles's 3.9 million people, will vote to secede from the city in a referendum next November. L.A. mayor James Hahn has even begun to negotiate with secession advocates the financial terms of the divorce as they'll appear on the referendum ballot.


Foes describe the secession drive as the greedy revolt of wealthy whites against the minority poor. Nonsense: the new valley city would be 48 percent Hispanic and more than 50 percent minority. What the drive really is about is greater local control and better core city services (see "Let's Break Up the Big Cities," Winter 1998).


Valley residents grasp that smaller is both more efficient and more democratic. As part of L.A., with just one city council member per 230,000 residents, valley voters have little say over the policies that affect neighborhood life—everything from sidewalk sweeping to police pay to what services to pay for in the first place. In large municipalities, well-funded public labor unions or other lobbying groups, big enough to throw their weight around in elections and get politicians' attention, dominate the system, resulting in costly and inefficient public services. The new valley city would have one council member for just 80,000 residents, meaning greater potential for citizen and taxpayer oversight and so a better chance at improved services.


For San Fernando Valley to pull off secession, however, a majority of voters in its neighborhoods must agree, plus a majority of all L.A. voters. If the valley does leave, expect echoes throughout the country.

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