Disaster In The Making
Comment by Mark Lacter
Never underestimate the underdog. The St. Louis Rams and New York Yankees found that out the hard way. Now it’s Jim Hahn’s turn.
Valley secession, which for years generated rolling eyes and dismissive smirks among the downtown power elite, could actually happen. If the measure makes it on the November ballot almost a certainty at this point passage would merely require separate majority votes of both the Valley and the city as a whole. And if the pro-secession Valley vote is heavy enough, it could overtake whatever opposition there is in other parts of the city.
There will, of course, be big money from the anti-secession crowd at least $5 million and probably a good deal more to buy airtime and warn of civic calamity on a “Blade Runner” scale if the San Fernando Valley were allowed to break away. The unions will get behind the opposition, as will much of the Latino and African American constituencies, and perhaps they can help avert disaster. Either way, it could be very close.
And for what? Breaking off 1.4 million people from the city of Los Angeles remains a hare-brained idea hatched by a relatively few yahoos who thankfully are not reflective of the Valley at large. Their case for separation centers on a long-held gripe that Valley residents and businesses don’t get their fair share of city services and political attention marginally true at one time but certainly not now and definitely not worth seceding over.
Would cityhood bring the cops to your house quicker or get your street re-paved sooner? Would it assure more responsive representation? After all the studies and debates, there are no sure answers nor can there be assurances that services wouldn’t get any worse and taxes wouldn’t go up. Why would anyone want to bet the house on the uncertainty created by starting the nation’s sixth largest city from scratch?
Just plain dumb.
But the other side has been dumb, too mostly by dissing the amateurish secessionists and then by assuming that the costs required in such a breakup would be so astronomical that no voter could possibly vote yes. What they hadn’t figured is that amateurs often make the most tenacious opponents and that the breakup costs being bandied about are actually quite affordable. The most recent estimate: $56 million for a new Valley city to pay the old city of L.A. each year to make up for revenue shortfalls (though common sense suggests the ultimate costs will be higher).
Secession is more than just numbers, though. It’s about the absence of a downtown leader who can stare down the yahoos, appeal to a reasoned Valley electorate, and put this nonsense into the dustbin.
To be fair, the secessionists began conniving well before Jim Hahn’s watch, but now that he’s in the thick of it and with his second term already on the line his failure to connect is not surprising, but dispiriting all the same.
To state the obvious: Hahn is astoundingly ordinary. He has a thin, tentative voice that’s terrible for sound bites and debates both of which he’ll need to engage in as the campaign heats up. Perhaps he’ll find campaign surrogates to help (it worked with Bill Simon), but in the end, I’m left with this uneasy sense that we’re witnessing an impending train wreck called Valley secession and as the seconds tick away, no one is pulling the cord.
Mark Lacter is editor of the Business Journal.