Merchants Split Over Effects of a Breakup

Staff Reporter

There are days when Donato Caputo doesn't get a single customer at his Sherman Oaks barber shop located within two blocks of six hair salons along Ventura Boulevard.

Caputo blames the city of Los Angeles for allowing too many of one type of business in such a limited area. That's why he favors secession. "There is no control over the distribution of licenses," said Caputo, 74. "When a city is too big, it's difficult to control. "(With secession) there would be a closer watch."

Hernandez is afraid that creating a new city will make basic services, such as water and trash pickup, more expensive.

"I like Los Angeles the same as it is now. But we do need more attention from city hall to the Valley more police, more security for the people," said Hernandez, owner of a convenience store for 22 years.

These two merchants illustrate the division and confusion that exists among merchants throughout the San Fernando Valley as they begin to learn more about the secession movement and how it may affect them. It also reflects a recent poll showing Valley voters almost evenly split on whether or not to break away from the city of Los Angeles.

An informal survey shows that many business owners favoring a breakup can be found in the south end of the Valley near Ventura Boulevard in the Sherman Oaks and Encino communities, the hotbed of secession activity. In the less affluent communities like Sun Valley and Pacoima, shopkeepers are more unsure that secession is a way to solve its problems.

"If we pay our own taxes, (city leaders) can keep our cities safer and cleaner no graffiti," said Maria Arroyo, co-owner of Plaza Lock & Key of Encino. "When we need the police, we can get them right away like in Burbank and San Fernando. When you call the police, they are there in five minutes. Here it takes two or three hours."

Claiming that the Valley receives a disproportionately low level of services for the taxes and fees it pumps into city hall, secession proponents believe a new city would result in a more accessible city council, more police protection, and cleaner streets. All of which, proponents say, would bring new business into their areas.

Chamber endorsements

Valley VOTE, the group organizing the secession effort, has garnered the endorsement of the Valley's 23 chambers of commerce for placing the measure on the ballot. So far, eight of the chambers have endorsed secession itself.

Additionally, 60 business and residential groups that support Valley VOTE are urging other business organizations and community groups to jump on the secession bandwagon.

Secession opponents, meanwhile, believe there are misconceptions within the business community concerning a breakup and they are mounting a campaign to get business owners to come to their side.

At Miriam's Boutique in Pacoima, owner Miriam Ramos questions whether a smaller city would help her struggling business.

"For me, it's the same if they separate (the Valley) from Los Angeles or not," she said. "The customers who come in here (live) around Pacoima. They don't come from Panorama City or San Fernando."

Some shop owners in the North Valley fear that a new city would increase business taxes and fees to pay for the start-up costs of forming new libraries and police and fire departments, while doing nothing to clean up litter or repair roads.

But others insist that breaking away from Los Angeles can't hurt.

"I don't think Sun Valley has a reputation for having a business (base) that attracts a big-name chain," said Martha Tlape, co-owner of Colonial Realty, a Sun Valley residential real estate brokerage. "It's dirty. You won't see a Starbucks or a Coffee Bean here. The closest you get in Sun Valley to a coffee shop is a doughnut shop."

Added her husband and business partner Cain Garcia: "If people see a clean city, they'll want to buy in this city. Maybe I can do more business."

As is true throughout the electorate, opinions are tinged with doubt on both sides of the question. Some were unfamiliar with what secession would do and even with the word itself.

"It's forever right?" asked Miguel Montano, owner of El Rancho Artesanal, a Pacoima furniture store, as a reporter explained what was involved. "Is that what it is? I have not talked to anybody about this."

Ben Toubian, owner of Complete Computer Care in Sherman Oaks, has mixed feelings. He says he favors secession, "because you're working with a smaller government authority so you know who you can talk to. I disfavor it because of the costs involved. Like a business, there's always a set-up cost. I have no idea how many millions of dollars. What scares me is if they are going to increase our city tax to cover the cost of the transition. Less money in other people's pockets always hurts my business."

Nadia Farida, co-owner of Encino-based All Printing Services Inc., believed that secession's most important benefit was a smaller, less bureaucratic school district. But when she was informed that the LAUSD would remain in tact regardless of the outcome, she immediately changed her position to anti-secession.

"School is the only reason I (supported) it," said Farida. "A smaller school district would be a lot better. There wouldn't be any busing from the other part of town and there wouldn't be overcrowding."

Encountering misconceptions

Julie Wong, a spokeswoman for L.A. Mayor James Hahn, said a lot of secession support stems from such misconceptions. The mayor's business team has been meeting with Business Improvement Districts and Chambers of Commerce throughout the city in hopes of convincing them that they don't need two cities to improve their economic standing.

"We're helping the BIDs with what they can do to help their areas, Wong said. "There's no guarantee they would get these same services in a new Valley city."

On the secession side, organizers expect continued support from Valley businesses.

"We anticipate members will contribute money to the campaign and go back to their businesses and get support from their employees, their customers and their vendors," said Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE. "There will be a snowball effect. A check from businesses is important. But it's the start of their involvement but not the end of it. Whereas with Hahn, all he is going to get is checks."

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