On the wall of my home office hangs a framed picture that I treasure as a symbol of the million or more stories I wrote or edited in my four decades as a newspaperman, a single front page dated May 26, 1996.
“What if the Valley were . . . THE CITY,” reads the headline above an artist’s map of the San Fernando Valley, the place I’ve called home for so long I can hardly remember all the other places I lived.
“America’s safest, richest city,” declares the headline beneath the picture. The story adds that the Valley would be America’s sixth largest and most integrated big city, pushing the remaining portion of L.A. into third place behind Chicago.
It’s the article that launched the San Fernando Valley secession movement, along with showing the Valley did not get – and still does not get – a “fair share” of city services while paying an inordinate share of city taxes.
In the late 1970s, the power elite of L.A. had made secession impossible. But the grass-roots yearning for independence and the Daily News’ articulation of the issues forced the state Legislature – with bipartisan support from our own Assembly members Bob Hertzberg and Tom McClintock – to make secession at least theoretically possible.
Theoretically is the right word, since Valley cityhood never stood a chance because the law that was approved required a dual vote in support: the Valley and Los Angeles as a whole.
It was a brutal and unfair fight: A 10-1 inancing advantage against secession and the rigid opposition of all those with power – the unions and special interests that feed off of City Hall and what passes for a civic elite. They all looked down their noses at the Valley, but they couldn’t bear the thought of losing L.A.’s middle-class cash cow.
Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the secession vote. Despite intense campaign against it, 50.7 percent of Valley voters supported cityhood. However, it lost citywide by a 2-1 margin.
As managing editor of the Daily News at the time, I believed the Valley had to stand up for itself and demand respect from City Hall. Secession was the best available tool to achieve that whether it succeeded or failed.
In recent years, as a blogger, columnist and citizen activist I have encountered hundreds of people in every part of the city who yearn to escape the clutches of the failed political machine that rules City Hall and ignores their values and needs.
My answer is always the same: It was a fixed game back then, and it still is today. If you want City Hall’s respect, you are going to have to organize and seize power for yourselves. They will not give it to you.
Still, I wonder often about what might have happened – what if the Valley really was the city? What would be different?