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Wednesday, Feb 8, 2023

Heads I Win v Tails You Lose

Heads I Win Tails You Lose

Commentary by Mark Lacter

Time to introduce a new word to the San Fernando Valley secession saga litigation.

A lawsuit was to be filed last week in an effort to block the secession measure from getting on the November ballot. The suit, being brought against various parties, including the County Board of Supervisors, will contend that the Local Agency Formation Commission, the folks charged with studying whether secession is feasible, failed to consider the potential environmental effects of constructing more municipal buildings or hiring more workers.

The argument sounds silly, even to this anti-secessionist, but get used to more of this stuff. Between now and November, there will be other attempts to delay or even derail the breakup. And should secession somehow capture the necessary votes, it is certain to be challenged in the courts a process that could easily take months or even years to sort out.

None of the litigation is likely to overturn a vote of the people, but it could significantly alter the structure of a new city and leave voters wondering, yet again, why they should bother casting a ballot if some judge is going to tinker with their will. Or their legislator’s will.

Not that there’s anything wrong with challenging a ballot measure or piece of legislation. Some of the nation’s proudest moments have had judges affirming or overturning laws involving racial discrimination, free speech or health and safety regulations. But court intervention is best reserved for extraordinary circumstances, not as a last-gap effort to obstruct what has been voted on or signed into law.

And there is little extraordinary about the flood of litigation that seeks to overturn, or at least delay, some public policy initiative. These are just cases designed to never end always one more court to hear one more argument about one more provision. The attorneys get their fees, the obstructionists get their stays, and the initial measure that got approved becomes forgotten or outdated. Eventually, it gets re-crafted so as to avoid the legal boobytraps and the cycle begins again.

No wonder folks walk away. This month’s hasty retreat by Philip Anschutz’s investment group to build a downtown football stadium involved numerous factors, but one of them was probably a vote by the County Board of Supervisors to sue the city over approval of a redevelopment district that would have included the stadium. The Anschutz group would have used the city’s right of eminent domain to cobble together the remaining parcels of land not already purchased. But the supes argued that the redevelopment plan would strip tax revenue from the county. It’s a conflict laced with politics and unlikely to be quickly resolved.

On the surface, it’s good to see the Anschutz gang pull out. The two best places for a football stadium have been and still are a renovated Coliseum (NFL opposition notwithstanding) or right next to Dodger Stadium (community sensitivity notwithstanding). But whatever your preference, it would have been nice to see the various venues duke it out under the watchful, and neutral, eyes of the mayor and council. Instead, the process was quashed, in effect, by the threat of lengthy litigation.

It’s another discouraging example of too many parties working for their own parochial interests rather than in the interests of the common good. Compromise, it seems, is for sissies. Nowadays, it’s either all for me or nothing for everyone.

The nothings have it.

Mark Lacter is editor of the Business Journal. He can be contacted at


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