Blacks' Advocacy of Secession Short-Sighted

By EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON



The flirt by some black leaders with secessionist groups in the San Fernando Valley and the Harbor area is a near textbook example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These leaders are still so furious at Mayor James Hahn for allegedly double crossing them in opposing the reappointment of former LAPD chief Bernard Parks that they ignore the havoc that secession could wreak on black and Latino interests in Los Angeles.

Valley and Harbor breakaway cities could mean reduced funding for police, fire services, street repairs and maintenance. They could result in a nightmarish dumping of civil service rules and union contracts that insure jobs and labor protections for thousands of black and Latino workers in city agencies. They could mean higher taxes and utility rates for blacks, especially the black poor, who would be forced to shell out more for dwindling services.

A sharply downsized Los Angeles would also reduce the clout and bargaining power the city has in Washington and Sacramento to get increased funds for programs and services.

Valley and Harbor secession leaders promise that smaller cities will ensure blacks better service, more representative government, and improved schools. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. A smaller city would have less, not more, tax revenue for neighborhood services. A study by the Local Agency Formation Commission noted that a Valley city would be forced to contract out its services to L.A. This could raise taxes and diminish services for Valley and L.A. residents.

Blacks comprise less than 10 percent of the population in the Valley and the Harbor area. Their numbers are far too small and too spread out to leverage voting strength to win seats on Harbor and Valley city councils and school boards. This would insure that blacks are frozen out of appointments to city agencies.

Then there are the schools. On paper, Valley and Harbor secession entails no direct threat of cost or service reduction to L.A. classrooms. But the danger signs are there. Black students comprise 15 percent of LAUSD students. Their test scores and achievement levels still scrape the bottom in comparison with average test scores in other districts. School reformers are mobilizing support for more money and resources for grossly underserved schools in predominantly black schools.

It will take added millions for better quality programs; texts, computer and learning lab equipment to reverse the downhill slide at these schools. And to get that money they must mount a huge political fight with the school board and in Sacramento and Washington. This comes at a time when Gov. Gray Davis and the state legislature threaten big cuts in revenue payouts to state and local agencies, and that could ultimately include school districts. Separate Valley and Harbor school districts would siphon off even more of the endangered education dollars.

Valley and Harbor secessionists loudly protest the charge that secession is a sneaky ploy to carve out a white middle-class dominated political enclave in a city and county where Latinos, blacks and Asians will soon be the majority. They insist that blacks and Latinos in their new cities will also pay lower taxes, get better police and fire protection, better government and improved education. There is no solid evidence to back up any of these claims and much suspicion that these are politically self-serving hollow promises.

For their part, some black leaders peddle the notion that a downsized city would instantly inflate their badly dwindling political numbers and clout. They say they could retain the three council seats currently held by African-Americans, and pick up possibly one or two others.

This is dreamland thinking. The big political winners in a shrunken L.A. would be Latino voters. Their numbers will continue to surge no matter whether the city stays intact or falls apart. Let's hope that black leaders, in their blind and misplaced anger at Hahn, don't lose total sight of the colossal danger secession poses to them.



Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. He can be heard on KPFK Radio, 90.7FM, Tuesdays, 7-8 p.m.

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