No Divorce


The Valley will rise again, even if we have to sue: that was the vow of secessionists as the measure to breakup the City of Los Angeles went down in defeat, winning by a narrow margin in the San Fernando Valley but losing in the citywide vote.

But supporters of the breakaway effort were decidedly more subdued at a Wednesday morning press conference, saying that they were exploring a variety of options but would not necessarily pursue legal action.

Measure F, which would have allowed the San Fernando Valley to become an independent city, was defeated with 67 percent of voters citywide voting against, despite a narrow majority of Valley voters running 51 percent in favor. The measure was unique in its requirement that it pass both within the Valley and in a combined Valley and City of Los Angeles vote.

Jews were involved on both sides of the secession battle, but communities in both the Valley and the city were opposed to the measure primarily because they felt it would disenfranchise the poor.

From the beginning, secessionists agreed that theirs was a long shot, and election returns throughout the night bore that assessment out. But far from being depressed, Tuesday night found breakaway advocates in good spirits, gobbling up chocolate-covered strawberries as "Big Country" boomed from the sound system at the Radisson Hotel in Sherman Oaks. Valley candidates, a good percentage of whom are Jewish, expressed their optimism despite the early returns.

"I really believe we’ll carry the Valley," said Carol Silver, a candidate for the Valley City Council’s 7th District. "Los Angeles has just done too little, too late. People feel that, for the first time in a long time, their vote counted."

Like a lot of secession supporters, Silver, the owner of a PIP printing store, found the issue had spurred her to a whole new level of civic involvement. She said she did not know if she would run for an L.A. city office if secession were defeated. "I’m not ruling anything out. I may not run again, but I’ll always be a part of the process."

On the opposition side, things were relatively quiet at one of the two anti-secessionist outposts in the Valley. At the Democratic Party of the Valley’s Encino headquarters, about 75 people gathered to watch the returns and toast each other with Camelot wine (a poke at one of the possible names for the new Valley city). Rep. Brad Sherman, currently of the 24th District, did not have long to wait to breathe his sigh of relief; by 9 p.m. CNN had called the 27th congressional race in his favor. Most of the concentration then went to other Democratic candidates including Lloyd Levine — who would go on to win the race for State Assembly’s 40th District — and the governor’s race, where Bill Simon had taken a premature lead. Secession, partiers felt, was in the bag.

Meanwhile, at the Sheraton Universal, a restless crowd from L.A. United also seemed more focused on the gubernatorial race than on Measure F. Volunteers from the group had worked tirelessly to defeat the breakaway effort, aided by the giant war chest of $7.4 million amassed by Mayor James Hahn.

Most anti-secessionists interviewed predicted (incorrectly, as it turned out) that Measure F would be defeated in the Valley as well as the citywide vote. Some, like former City Councilman Michael Feuer, expressed their fervent hope that such an outcome would finally put an end to the breakaway effort.

"This secession campaign is a distraction from actually fixing things," Feuer said. "The mayor, the city councilmembers, everyone had to put their time into thinking and working on secession when they should be working every waking moment to make things better in the city."

Asked if he thought a boroughs system or more powerful neighborhood councils might get another look now that secession had failed, Feuer said he did not think those were the solutions to the Valley’s problems.

"I’m skeptical of this flavor-of-the-month approach to reforms. We need to give the reforms that are already out there time to work," he said. "For example, it’s very early in the evolution of neighborhood councils. We should give those a chance for a little bit. Saying, ‘We’re impatient to improve things in the city’ is different than saying, ‘Lets add one layer of reforms after another.’"

Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton soaked in the party’s atmosphere from the side of the stage. The newly installed chief of police, who has been vocal regarding his opposition to secession, said he foresaw some good coming out of the secession movement.

"It’s brought a lot of attention to their concerns," said the chief.

"Whether or not those concerns are justified is a matter of perception, but we in the [police] department certainly intend to give it a fresh look."

Back at the Radisson, Jewish community activist Scott Svonkin watched the election returns from his penthouse suite, surrounded by family and friends. Although he won his bid for the Valley City Council’s 14th District, it was a bittersweet victory, since the loss of Valley secession left him a councilman pro forma. He did get to participate in a press conference Wednesday morning with the other winning candidates, but the future of the Valley’s "council in exile" seemed unclear.

"I would be happier today if I were councilman of a city, but I’m very gratified with the outcome of the election," Svonkin said.

On election eve, Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment chair Richard Close and others discussed taking the issue to court if a majority of the Valley voted for Measure F.

Svonkin said he did not know if that fight would continue, but he acknowledged that changes were in the air and he hoped to be a part of them, as did the other Valley candidates.

"I think it’s my obligation as one of the top candidates to ensure the Valley gets the things the voters spoke out for — a fair share of resources, better services and a more responsive government," Svonkin said.

Whether the mayor will accept the olive branch extended to him remains to be seen.

"There is an opportunity here, when the noise dies down," Feuer said. "The mayor and the city council need to go to the people and say, ‘Now we’re going to show you that we are better as a larger city and this is how it will work.’"

Valley Jew/City Jew


Why is it that the majority of Jews in Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley oppose secession?

The most recent poll that counted Jewish voters, conducted last July by the Los Angeles Times, found that 57 percent of Jewish voters opposed secession and 34 percent said they were for it, with only 9 percent saying they were undecided.

Although the number of Jewish voters was too low to allow for a breakdown of Valley Jews versus city Jews, Susan Pinkus, director of the Times Poll, said that even in the Valley, Jewish voters were strongly against the breakup.

It is too easy to dismiss these numbers as yet another example of knee-jerk Jewish liberalism. In fact, secession is one of those issues that has defied the old left/right labels. At a secession debate I moderated, former 5th District Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Feuer went toe-to-toe with former Assemblyman Richard Katz, and both agreed it was perhaps the first time in their political careers that the two Democrats disagreed.

If anything, the Jewish tilt against secession is the mark of determined conservatism. Jews on both sides of the Santa Monica Mountains are among the region’s most prosperous, most settled groups. We all want the city to work better for everyone. But trying to cure it in one fell swoop strikes us as radically risky, when we, of all groups, have so much at stake in the status quo. This is true whether you’re a real estate developer in West Hills or a downtown power broker.

Most Jews I know laughed off Mayor James Hahn’s pronouncement that secession would prove to be "a disaster of biblical proportions." But neither do they buy the secession boosters’ arguments that splitting up is just the tonic for what ails us. The wisest words I’ve come across on the entire debate were spoken by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in an interview with our reporter Wendy J. Madnick this past May. "The pro-secessionists who say this is the panacea to end all of the ills of living here are, to say the least, overstating their case," Yaroslavsky said, "and the people who are against secession and are running around saying this will be Armageddon are also overstating. We’ve had reorganizations of cities before. I don’t think people should be fearful the world is going to end."

Secession proponents, to their credit, have a vision and a plan. What they lack is proof. I asked Katz at that debate what precedents there are for the kind of urban breakup the secession measure called for on the Nov. 5 ballot. The answer is none.

Many of secession’s most ardent promoters are Jewish, such as Katz, Assemblyman Keith Richman, Valley VOTE leader Richard Close and Daily News Managing Editor Ron Kaye. But they have failed to convince others in the Jewish community that an independent Valley city would be a net plus for either the Valley or the city.

If you want to convince Jewish voters, you need to talk about crime, education and economic growth. But secession’s impact on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) would be, in the short-run, nil. Forming new municipalities is no guarantee that the state would approve breaking up LAUSD. Harvey Englander, who ran Richman’s assembly campaign, has said that secession advocates made a critical mistake by focusing on city breakup before taking on LAUSD.

As for crime, Hahn’s recent appointment of William Bratton as chief of police was perhaps his greatest single blow to the secession movement. It signaled his willingness to take a huge political risk — replacing Bernard Parks — to address issues Valley residents have rightly complained about for years.

Beyond the issues of crime and education, the burden of proof for Jewish voters in this contest is so great because of the value Jews place on the very idea of unity. It is an ideal we strive for, even if — as the breakdown in Israel’s ruling government this week demonstrated — it so often proves elusive. At least half the Jewish population of Los Angeles County lives in the San Fernando Valley. For Jews in Los Angeles, there’s hardly an Iron Curtain across the 405, not even so much as a Linen Drape. I, for one, was born and raised in the Valley. I live in Venice and my work takes me to North Hills, Van Nuys, downtown and Brentwood. Most of the Jewish Angelenos I meet in those parts of Los Angeles all want a smarter, better-run city. They also want to feel like they are a part of a larger, cohesive community. In times like these, there seems to be great comfort in the idea of togetherness — a sense of strength in numbers.

Secession as a movement may not have caught fire with Jewish voters, but the issues that lay behind it will still smolder after this election. In that sense, secession proponents deserve great credit for forcing elected officials and the rest of us to confront the bigger issues of governance, fairness and resource allocation, to stop doing business as usual, to listen.

Valley Races That Also Matter


With the spotlight on secession for the past few months, it is almost easy to forget that there are major political races involving Jewish candidates in the San Fernando Valley.

The most significant battle is the one being waged in the 27th U.S. House District. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) has been virtually invincible up until now in the 24th District. However, the district was redrawn in September, thus making him an unknown quantity to about two-thirds of his constituents and leaving an opening for challenger Robert Levy, an attorney from Woodland Hills.

"This [election] is a lot different," Sherman said. "In the year 2000, I was running in a district where people knew me. This campaign, the public appearance opportunities are limited because Congress was in session until three weeks before the election, but I am sending out a lot of mail."

Sherman said part of the challenge has been the sheer size and scope of the district — which now encompasses Northridge, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, Granada Hills and Burbank — plus the fact that getting attention in a busy news town like Los Angeles has been difficult this year.

"You can’t take for granted that people are going to vote for you if they don’t know who you are," Sherman pointed out. "The days are gone where people are going to vote party line; a lot of people will skip a candidate if they don’t know you."

For his part, Levy said he is concentrating his campaign on the various ethnic communities within the 27th District.

"It’s extremely important to reach out to all segments of the community," he said. "Filipino, Asian, Hispanic, as well as Jewish."

Other Jewish congressmen facing reelection in the Valley are Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), both of whom are expected to retain their seats.

In the Assembly, two Jewish challengers, Democrat Lloyd Levine and Republican Connie Friedman, are vying to represent 40th District, which was left up for grabs by because Bob Hertzberg had reached the term limit.

Levine, 32, is the son of political consultant Larry Levine and a legislative aide for Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto). Friedman, 60, a longtime Republican activist, owns a human resources consulting business and is on the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission. The district is heavily Democratic, favoring Levine.

In the 38th District, Republican Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge is expected to win reelection in his race against challenger Republican Paula Calderon. However if Valley secession passes, Richman may find himself as the first mayor of the new city.

Also expected to retain his seat is Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), whose district includes a portion of the Valley.

In the West Valley, Jewish Republican Michael Wissot is attempting to unseat Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), whose 41st Assembly District stretches from Oxnard to Santa Monica. Pavley has the advantage, as an incumbent and a Democrat, in a district that is 48 percent Democrat to 33 percent Republican, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"I carried 10 bills relating to education, several on transportation and public safety and several on the environment to the Assembly," Pavley said.

Pavley pointed out that legislation only comprises half of her duties as an assembly member, the other half being constituent services. For example, following a call from a concerned Holocaust survivor, Pavley worked with Bet Tzedek Legal Services of Los Angeles to have banks voluntarily waive fees charged to survivors receiving reparations payments via wire transfer.

Wissot, a former intern for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is hoping to win votes away from Pavley by focusing on voters’ dissatisfaction with Sacramento’s handling of the economy.

Wissot said that going door-to-door has been the key element of his campaign. "People feel the effect, that somebody came to their door and listened to their concerns and wanted to do something about it," he said. "That’s the heart of representative democracy."

Of all the candidates in the various races, the 28-year-old Wissot has the best consolation prize if he doesn’t win: he met his beshert, Cantor Alison Wienir of Stephen S. Wise, on the campaign trail.

"If the sole purpose of this election was to meet the love of my life, I’ll accept that with great appreciation," Wissot said.

The Final Push


In the final days before the Nov. 5 election, secession supporters are facing a tough battle. The latest public opinion poll shows Valley voters backing Measure F, which would create a separate city, by a narrow margin.

A Los Angeles Times Poll earlier this month found only 42 percent of likely Valley voters in favor of secession. However, a more recent study by Survey USA for KABC-TV found Valley cityhood supported by 58 percent of likely voters in the Valley and 40 percent citywide.

In the past five months since the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) gave its approval to a ballot measure on San Fernando Valley secession, a war of words has been waged between Los Angeles City Hall and secession proponents such as Valley VOTE. Although the polls indicate a likely victory for those in favor of keeping Los Angeles in one piece, the outcome still appears uncertain, according to some observers.

Part of the unusual nature of the secession vote has been the necessity for candidates for office in the proposed Valley city to also promote the split from the city, without which there can be no offices to fill. A group of candidates running in planned Valley council districts formed the organization United Valley Candidates (UVC) to pool resources and ideas for promoting the breakaway effort. Many commented on the difficulties involved in running dual campaigns for office and secession, especially when it was their first bid for elected office. In addition, for Jewish candidates there has been the problem of overcoming the organized Jewish community’s vocal opposition to Measure F.

A group of prominent local rabbis has taken out newspaper ads — including in The Jewish Journal — urging Jewish community members to vote no on secession. Also, the American Jewish Committee recently came out against secession.

In the nonpartisan Valley mayoral race, a Jewish Republican, 48-year-old Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge, appears to be the front-runner. He has endorsements from the Daily News and Assemblyman Dario Frommer, giving him a slight edge over his nearest competitor, realtor Mel Wilson.

The Democrat-backed Wilson, 49, is a former professional football player, who has served on the Los Angeles Fire Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. Other mayoral candidates include Marc Strassman, 54, an Internet consultant from Valley Village, and Leonard Shapiro, an 83-year-old newspaper columnist.

A high percentage of those seeking spots on the proposed Valley city council are Jewish. Of this group, Scott Svonkin is running the most conventional campaign. The chief of staff for Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) has received a number of endorsements, even from vocal opponents of secession, such as the county Democratic Party.

Aided by a $103,000 war chest, Svonkin has billboards placed throughout the proposed 14th District, which includes Studio City and parts of Sherman Oaks and Valley Village. In addition, he has sent out mailers and aired television ads that emphasize his experience but make little mention of secession.

Other candidates with less funds have sought creative ways to get their names before the public. Stephanie Spikell, also running for the 14th District seat, enlisted the help of her father, Hy Spikell, and five of his friends at the Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda to make calls to likely voters in the district.

Fellow council hopeful and UVC member Frank Sheftel, running in the 12th District, has been reaching out to seniors in the final weeks of the campaign, handing out fliers and promotional ballpoint pens at the Jewish Family Service’s Valley Storefront in North Hollywood.

Sheftel reported an encounter with one elderly woman whose experience, he said, typified older residents in the area. “She lives in a seniors apartment complex with 200 people, and they don’t have a polling place, so they all vote absentee,” he said. “She said she had gotten mailers from Jewish organizations saying to vote against it [secession] and she did.”

Sheftel echoed the sentiments of other Jewish candidates when he expressed his dismay at the organized Jewish community’s response to Valley secession.

However, Sheftel said he was not going to lose hope. “This is a David vs. Goliath situation, and as I recall, David came out on top,” he said half-jokingly. “It’s not unprecedented that this could happen.”

“People are not buying what the mayor is putting out,” Sheftel said. “Larry Levine [founder of One Los Angeles, which opposes secession] likes to call the whole thing a ‘scheme.’ It is so offensive but typical of the language [the opposition] is using. Things are getting ugly and going to get uglier.”

Similar complaints can also be heard on the opposition side, with people like former Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler pointing out the folly of secessionists demonizing Mayor James Hahn.

“The biggest mistake made by leaders of the secession movement has been to attack the mayor,” Fiedler said. “Even if secession passes, the Valley is going to be heavily dependent on city services for at least a year, and to attack the mayor instead of talking positively about what they will do themselves is just bad politics.”

Secession foes have continued running their now-familiar roulette-wheel TV ads, depicting secession as “a gamble we can’t afford,” along with similar radio ads ending with the tag line, “The devil is in the details.”

Many Valley residents interviewed by The Journal said that despite the battle waged by One Los Angeles and other unity groups, they planned to vote for the breakaway effort, even if they didn’t fully understand all the ramifications.

“Richard Katz makes some impressive arguments,” noted one woman after attending a debate between the pro-secession Katz and former members of the Los Angeles City Council held Oct. 13 by The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance’s Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The fact that people are making up their minds based on one debate they attended or one candidate who knocked on their door worries Fiedler. The former congresswoman, a Republican who served from 1981 to 1987, was a longtime proponent of secession and even worked with Valley VOTE up until a few months ago.

However, she said the LAFCO report outlining the financial and legislative impacts of secession changed her mind. Now she is actively supporting the opposition, even giving a speech against secession at a seniors fair promoted by Hahn.

“It’s going to be a disaster for the Valley,” Fiedler said. “The public doesn’t understand the scope of what secession means.”

“The fact that it will be a municipal city instead of a charter city means that a whole host of laws passed by the City of Los Angeles will not be provided in the new city — things like term limits, a living wage, provisions for a city ethics commission and all other commissions, with the exception of a planning commission,” she said. “We won’t even be able to vote for the city attorney or the city controller, because they will be appointed positions.”

On a positive note, Fiedler said, whether or not secession passes, the movement has brought to light the very real problems within the San Fernando Valley that need to be addressed. On that score, at least, both sides agree.

“There’s going to be a lot of cleanup afterwards, no matter what happens either way,” Sheftel said. “It’s not over on Nov. 5, not by any means.”

Loss for Jews if Secession Wins


The question has been posed to me frequently over the past several months: Is Valley secession "good for the Jews?"

Truthfully, it’s a difficult question to answer. Other current matters are easier to address. Is President Bush good for the Jews? Prime Minister Ariel Sharon certainly thinks so. Are the Dodgers good for the Jews? Shawn Green’s 42 home runs certainly say so.

But secession? Does it really matter for the Jews of Los Angeles whether they live in one city of 3.35 million people or two cities of 2 million and 1.35 million each?

Really, secession isn’t good for anyone. Moreover, because the promotion of division and the identification (rather than the repair) of fissures within our society is inconsistent with my understanding of the bulk of modern Jewish political practice in Los Angeles, my strong suspicion is that secession runs counter to mainstream Jewish political values.

It may be a fact that no community in Los Angeles would find itself more divided and have its political influence more diluted by secession than the Jewish community would. The Jewish community now has a more extensive presence than ever both south and north of Mulholland Drive.

Because the Jewish community is strongly represented in some Westside and Valley neighborhoods, splitting the city could divide and diminish the political heft of the Jewish community — heft that came not by accident but as the result of decades of efforts by my predecessors.

Although I understand the frustrations that are at the root of the secession debate, breaking up the City of Los Angeles is not the answer. I believe that Jewish and non-Jewish communities alike are stronger together. United, we can focus our efforts to strengthen our communities, address common problems and make Los Angeles a better place to live for everyone.

Representing people in both the Valley and Westside (and, for that matter, Hollywood, too, to give all breakup proposals equal time) gives me a unique perspective on the issue. My district spans the hillsides, including Valley Village, Sherman Oaks and Encino in the Valley, and the Fairfax-Beverly-Melrose district, Cheviot Hills, Beverlywood, Westwood, Carthay Circle, Century City and Palms on the Westside.

With very few exceptions, I know that the concerns of families on either side of the hill are the same. All want safe neighborhoods, good schools, clean water and air and less traffic. These are the concerns that my constituents share with me, and as a member of the City Council, I work every day to address them.

My Jewish constituents, in particular, have far more in common than not regardless of where they live. Recognizing that Holy Days can change priorities for city services, I have directed city departments to increase police patrols, relax parking or adjust crosswalks to ensure that congregations can safely assemble. These provisions are equally important on Pico and Chandler boulevards, and by representing both neighborhoods, I ensure that they are delivered.

On a larger scale, Jewish values, such as equality, fairness, family and community, would not be well-served in a divided city, particularly because the laws that protect them would expire after a transition period in the new Valley city.

From the beginning, the Jewish community has been stronger united than we are apart. Granted, there are differences among us and tensions that we will resolve in time. As a whole, our strength is in our union and building on the success we have had in Los Angeles.

With strong and growing temples to nurture spirituality, successful schools to teach young children and university students, powerful institutions to advocate for change and elected leaders who understand and share Jewish values, the Jewish community has done well in Los Angeles.

As a community, we have developed outstanding leaders to represent our interests. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, former Supervisor Ed Edelman and many current and former members of Congress, including Howard Berman, Henry Waxman, Jane Harman, Brad Sherman, Mel Levine and Tony Beilenson (and numerous other officeholders as well) built their careers by improving life in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities they represented. They have proven their dedication to serving the people of Los Angeles and their willingness to collaborate to solve problems.

It is unacceptable for a segment of the city to feel unfairly treated or ignored by their government. Some Valley residents’ frustration with city government has fueled the campaign for secession, and these problems and concerns must be addressed.

Still, the vast array of our shared interests and values must be prioritized to forge a long-term solution to conflicts. Rather than let the fewer issues that separate us justify breaking apart the city, we should unite as a community, with the genuine engagement of city government committed to addressing the underlying issues that fueled the secession debate.

From my experience in City Hall and working side by side with members of all communities, I know that we have a better chance for improvements for our families and communities if we work together rather than break apart.

Unwanted: City Breakup


If the election were held today, secession would fail — at least among Jewish voters, according to a recent Los Angeles Times Poll.

Jewish voters are strongly against secession, more so than any other religious group, according to the July 2 poll. Out of 1,291 total voters surveyed citywide, 168 identified themselves as Jewish; of those voters, 57 percent stated they were against secession and 34 percent said they were for it. Only 9 percent said they were undecided, which Susan Pinkus, director of the Los Angeles Times Poll, said was "very low undecideds for this stage in the game."

Jewish voters were more strongly against secession than the total voters citywide. The Times poll found that citywide, 47 percent of all those surveyed said they were against secession. The numbers for Valley voters only were, not surprisingly, more favorable toward secession, showing 52 percent for and 37 percent against. Although the number of Jewish voters was too low to allow for a breakdown of Valley Jews vs. city Jews, Pinkus said even in the Valley, Jewish voters were strongly against the breakup.

Comparing Jewish voters with other religious groups, Pinkus said the polls showed Catholic voters citywide divided on the issue, with 43 percent against and 40 percent for secession, while Protestants were closer in their votes to Jewish voters, with 50 percent against and 35 percent in favor of the breakup. However, unlike the results from Jewish voters, those trends reversed when applied to only Valley residents, reflecting the general population’s leanings.

Jewish leaders, many of whom are themselves against secession, said they were not surprised by the poll’s findings.

"I’m not surprised, but I am pleased to hear the majority of Jewish voters are against secession," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Diamond spent more than a year studying the Valley, Hollywood and Harbor secession proposals as part of a task force for the Council of Religious Leaders.

"The status quo is clearly not working, but proponents of secession would have to make their case that it will significantly improve the lives of residents both in the city and the Valley, and I think they have failed that test," he said. "In addition, as a religious leader I have a special concern for the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised. To date, I have seen no firm data that would demonstrate the folks in favor of secession really have the interests of the poor at heart."

Rabbi Don Goor of Temple Judea, which has campuses in Tarzana and West Hills, said he believes Jewish voters in the Valley would naturally be uncomfortable with the idea of breaking off from the city of Los Angeles.

"We understand the value of being a part of a larger community and believe very deeply in community. In fact, there is a quote from the Mishnah that says ‘Al tifrosh min hatzibur,’ which means, ‘Don’t separate yourself from the community,’" Goor said. "The other thing to consider is that the Jewish community in Los Angeles has been very successful at building coalitions and making sure the values important to us are heard at the citywide level. I would hate for that to be lost."

But secession proponents say the Times Poll results contradict the feedback they receive from Jewish sources.

"The results are contrary to what we hear out in the Jewish community," said Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE and longtime president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. "For my friends and associates who are Jewish, particularly those in the Valley, it is a question of smaller city council districts and more responsive government, and so they favor [secession]."

Regarding Diamond’s comments, Close pointed out that, as noted in a recent article in the Daily News, "The city of Los Angeles gives the least amount of help to its poor compared to any of the surrounding communities like Burbank and Glendale. So I do not think Los Angeles is the city to look to as an example of what we could be doing for the poor."

"There is also more to the issue than just the poor," Close continued. "The middle class is leaving the city and the Valley in droves, businesses are leaving in droves because of inadequate police and paramedic services and because of the poor quality of the schools. If we’re concerned about the poor, we should also be concerned about the middle class."

Still, if the Times Poll is accurate, the majority of Jewish voters would agree with Goor’s analysis of secession.

"I think it’s against our interests politically and against our principles Jewishly," Goor concluded.

Can Bob Hertzberg Save L.A.?


On a drizzly morning, with the city just opening its eyes, Bob Hertzberg is sitting at Solley’s Delicatessen in Sherman Oaks. Even before having his coffee, he seems animated, even agitated, by his great new project: how to save Los Angeles.

To Hertzberg, speaker emeritus of the state Assembly, saving Los Angeles is not what the new civic patriots opposing Valley secession will be telling us over the next months. It’s not about maintaining a dysfunctional system at all costs — one whose greatest beneficiaries are city bureaucrats, well-connected developers and a political class whose living depends on keeping things just the way they are. It’s not about how, if the Valley secedes, those of us who live there will no longer be able to identify with the Lakers or the Dodgers, enjoy the Hollywood Bowl or have dim sum in Chinatown.

Hertzberg’s vision goes to the heart of politics, to where people live and how they interact with government. As I worked with him on his borough plan, I could see he was looking not only for a "political fix" to a problem, but also a way to re-energize a failing political culture. By dividing the city into nine smaller boroughs, each with considerable powers of self-government, he is trying to bring accountability and accessibility to a city regime that long ago forgot about average citizens, most particularly in the middle-class warrens of the San Fernando Valley.

This is not what the current string-pullers and current Mayor James Hahn, want to see. They like the status quo, it provides for expensive council races — manna for consultants, unions and big developer donors — in huge districts that often have about as much coherence as a George Bush (pick either one) monologue. To preserve the municipal monstrosity, they are willing to use any kind of tactic — from race-mongering to suggesting the lights will go out — to "save" the city that they feed upon.

This is what most weighs on the mind of Hertzberg.

"What is the point of stopping secession by scaring people to death?" Hertzberg asks over his salami and eggs. "It’s good for the campaign consultants, but it is going to leave a city divided. It will be like World War II."

Hertzberg spells out his disaster scenario: Hahn, backed by unions and the insider culture, uses his vastly superior resources to get out a message that secession is, as the mayor says, "a harebrained scheme" that will raise taxes, hurt the poor and create a whole new layer of politicians. The fact that other cities have such systems — such as New York — will be used to raise the specter of "Eastern" corrupt politics.

In Hertzberg’s worst-case scenario, the Valley’s now overwhelming support for secession erodes, but it still passes by 55 percent or more. But the rest of the city — scared that its cash cow is about to wander off the ranch — forces the recalcitrant Valley to stay. A new mayor and council elected by the Valley become, in essence, what Hertzberg calls " a government in exile." Hahn and his consultants get their win, but at a terrible price.

"Secession may not win, but it won’t go away," explains David Abel, a key Hertzberg adviser, civic activist and publisher. "What the Hahn people don’t understand is there’s a city that’s hurting. On what graveyard do they hope to build the new L.A.? Yet, that’s what we face unless Bob saves the day."

Hertzberg’s emergence as the erstwhile architect of Los Angeles’ salvation reflects his unique upbringing, and his decidedly secular, but very much Jewish, roots. His father, Harrison, was the son of rag dealers who fled the pogroms at the turn of the last century. He trained as an engineer at the University of Wisconsin, served in the military and then went to law school at Harvard.

This scholarly bent — accompanied by left-wing politics — shaped Hertzberg. The Constitution, he notes, was, in some sense, "the family business." Religious Judaism was not part of the picture. Hertzberg, for example, was not bar mitzvahed, even though he was raised in "a Jewish culture."

Yet as he grew into a man, went to school at Redlands and then gained a law degree at Hastings, Hertzberg’s latent Jewishness seemed to emerge. Today, his two sons from his previous marriage are at Stephen S. Wise Temple. He now counts Abraham Joshua Heschel, along with his father and the great constitutionalists, as major influences.

"I think in terms of structures that can work," Hertzberg suggests. "My view of the world is it’s good to make things that help people. I want to make an alternative that brings people closer to government and feel more in control of things. To bring back a sense of place."

This highly practical view, however, also masks a kind of messianic passion, something that makes him push proposals, like boroughs, that seem unlikely to make it through the usual political process. Journalists describe the bear-hugging pol as "hyperactive," but Hertzberg is more self-deprecating. "I’m kind of a nut," he says, with a kind of perverse pride. "That’s who I am."

Yet Hertzberg also is very much a postmodern Angeleno, who understands that coping with the diversity of the city is part of making the place work. He cut his teeth politically not in the Berman-Waxman machine, but working for the United Farm Workers and for Eastside firebrand Gloria Molina. His second wife, Cynthia Telles, is a Mexican American who teaches at the UCLA School of Medicine. Her son, also from a previous marriage, is being raised Catholic.

He is also a good politician, in the sense of getting other politicians to back him. His personal talents helped him become speaker in 2000. He worked assiduously to craft legislation. Some complain, however, that Hertzberg was less than effective as a speaker; certainly in term-limits time, no one has come close to the legislative power of the late Jesse Unruh or Willie Brown. But Hertzberg used the system well, and to the benefit of the Valley constituents who elected him — something that few Valley councilmen have done in recent years.

Compromise, he reminds me over and over, is what politics is about; something you need as a legislator and even more as speaker. Weighing the interests of various groups and individuals, like the Constitution does on a broader scale, the boroughs proposal reflects that notion completely. It allows for even small sections of the city — borough districts would be as small as 80,000 — to express themselves and elect genuine, part-time "citizen politicians." Koreatown, Pico-Robertson-Fairfax, Watts, San Pedro, all the wondrous neighborhoods of this city, get a chance to elect someone from around the neighborhood.

But key issues of citywide interest, the airport, the Department of Water and Power and the like, would be controlled by a council of borough presidents. The mayor would retain his expanded powers granted by the slightly reformed new City Charter.

If Hertzberg is to be faulted, it is in coming out too late with the program. With $1 million in campaign funds in his kitty, Hertzberg could have financed a signature-gathering campaign that would have allowed him to place the measure on the ballot without council approval. Working on a short timetable, he did a brilliant job of marshaling support from academics like state Librarian Kevin Starr, New York urban expert Fred Siegel and political scientist Eric Schockman. He also rallied sympathy from the top media — from the fervently anti-secession Los Angeles Times to the pro-breakup Daily News, and even a mild endorsement from LA Weekly’s Harold Meyerson, the social democratic rabbi of the rational left in Los Angeles.

But, unfortunately, prestige and rationality don’t often count for much in politics. Hertzberg’s real struggle is against his own caste, the city’s political animals. It’s an uphill fight to convince a bunch of committed pols –the best paid city council in the nation and due for yet another raise — to change the way it, and its backers, do business. There are reasons for them to be, as the Roman author Seneca put it, "resolute in their madness."

Hertzberg knows that the reasons to kill boroughs, from the perverse values of petty politics, are understandable. Alex Padilla, the council president from the Northeast Valley, does not want to abandon a system that serves his political controllers, even if it does precious little for his hard-pressed district. Jack Weiss, who perhaps should know better, doesn’t feel the oppression of the city since his largely Westside 5th District does relatively well under the current system. In addition, the loss of the Valley would leave the posh Westside virtually the only large affluent pocket in the city. With the Valley no longer available for ransacking, the Westside may find itself more a target for downtown’s redistributionist urges.

The others, for the most part, will do as their masters — powerful developers, union bosses, political consultants — tell them. They will concoct "patriotic" reasons, or find fault in some detail of the plan, but basically it’s against their narrow interests. A better, more responsive city is not on the agenda for most of the council, anymore than it is for the small group of insiders who animate the otherwise-lifeless mayor.

For these reasons, it seems the die against boroughs seems already cast, although Hertzberg is likely to press on until the end of July, when the plan must be put on the ballot by the council. If it fails the feared scenario — the anti-secessionists "winning ugly" as he puts it — will then unfold, with the attendant tragic consequences of even greater alienation and internecine conflict.

But even under this likely scenario, Hertzberg is not likely to let go of the borough plan. Even as he takes a hiatus for two or three years from elective office, he is likely to bring the idea up again, perhaps as a grass-roots ballot initiative. As he sees it, the divided outcome of a secession vote makes even more critical the launch of another, new Valley-led effort to restructure the city.

"I am not about to give up," he says. "Ideas never die. I think this is the future whether it’s today or tomorrow."


Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow with the Davenport
Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University and at the Milken
Institute. He is the author of “The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is
Reshaping the American Landscape” (Random House, $12.95) and can be reached at
joelkotkin@newgeography.com .

Low Profile, High Impact


It is tough to estimate current public opinion regarding Valley secession. In the two years since the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) began its investigation into the possibility of secession, the world and the people of Los Angeles have radically changed their priorities. To paraphrase Rick Blaine in "Casablanca," it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of two little areas don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Still, in interviews at locations around Los Angeles, when people had opinions about secession, it was primarily favorable.

"It may be good because the city’s too large, and you have a lot of wasted money happening," said Westside resident Amy Raff. "So if you were to break it down, and deal with the issues on this side of the hill, specifically, and keep the money here to deal with those issues, and the money on that side to deal with those issues, then it would be good."

Iris Zaft, 53, moved to West Hills four years ago from the Pico-Robertson area. She said her vote would depend heavily on weighing the social benefits of secession.

"If it would benefit people who are sending young people to school, it would be very good for the Valley," Zaft said. "[The city of Los Angeles] may be harder to govern because it’s so large and so diverse; and there are senior citizens’ needs and families’ needs and young people to consider. If [secession] would help those people, it would be a good thing."

Zaft said either way the secession issue ended up being resolved, it should not affect relations within the Jewish community.

"I’m still friends with people from Pico-Robertson. They might ask me what I like and what is different living here, but it doesn’t separate us."

Allan Abramson, 47, an engineer with Los Angeles County’s Public Works Department, said he had mixed opinions about the issue.

"There are valid points on all sides," he said. "From what I understand, there’s definitely money in the Valley, so if the secession would allow the Valley to keep the money here and not support South-Central or the poorer areas of Los Angeles, that’s what some people feel good about. It’s going to tax the governmental system; the infrastructure will have to be divided and rebuilt. It will take a lot of time but the logistics are fairly surmountable."

Abramson said it probably would not affect his department. "Depending on how they break up the services, there might be some voids where the county would have to provide some services. That’s what L.A. County Public Works does. The county provides services based on the requests of incorporated cities which aren’t big enough or don’t have the facilities to provide those services."

Like Zaft, Abramson said the effect of secession on the Los Angeles Jewish community would be negligible.

"You have family on this side of the hill; you have family on that side of the hill. There are temples and synagogues on both sides. If you’re in the situation of doing shiva and you’re in the city and want to go say Kaddish, you go to a synagogue there; if you’re in the Valley you go to a synagogue in the Valley. It wouldn’t make any difference," he concluded.

In addition to its less-than-glamorous profile, the secession issue also suffers from the public’s lack of understanding of what it means. Most people interviewed said their main reason for supporting secession was that it would improve local schools, implying that a secession from the city would naturally result in the creation of a new school district for the new Valley city. However, the State Board of Education (which must approve any measures for creating new school districts) ruled in early December that San Fernando Valley schools could not break off from the Los Angeles Unified School District, because the district relies too heavily on funding from Valley residents and because such a move would further segregate city and Valley schools.

Political analysts like Raphael Sonenshein, a professor at California State University Fullerton, say they fear current misunderstandings about the real impacts of secession could have dire repercussions if the issue goes to a vote in November.

"What we don’t know is what information will be on the ballot or what the terms are going to be, because no one agrees on the terms right now," Sonenshein said. "It is extremely difficult to answer whether you are for or against secession when it is only posed as an abstract. The problem is, this is such a big deal, it is difficult for people to get their arms around the consequences, whether good or bad. People are taking a lot of shortcuts in their analysis because it is simpler that way."

Sonenshein said much of how people will ultimately vote on the issue rests on what kind of information they receive in the next seven months.

"That’s why we have political campaigns. It allows for the information to be brought to the table, and then tested against each side," he said. He added that in his opinion, the polls should have shown even more support for secession than they did "because most of the information coming from LAFCO points out the ways secession would work. But that will all be tested in the heat of the political campaign."

LAFCO officials will submit their decision regarding placing the issue before voters on the November ballot later this month. In the meantime, watch for The Journal’s final segment in this series, which will examine the likelihood of secession passing and the role the Jewish-community, as voting bloc, will play.

Valley Secession: Better for Jews?


For the Jewish community, like the rest of Los Angeles, the issue of Valley secession boils down to one key question: Will we be better off after secession than we are now?

Some officials predict that secession would actually make very little difference to the Jewish community. In terms of services, secession of the Valley and Hollywood would have only a minimal effect, according to Jewish Federation representatives. Miriam Prum Hess, vice president of planning and allocations for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that of all the agencies only Jewish Family Service would be significantly impacted.

The bulk of the Federation’s funding for 2001 — a total of $39.6 million — came from state and federal sources; only $12 million was derived from local sources, primarily from Los Angeles County. Of city and county funds combined, Jewish Family Service received the largest portion, about $1.7 million.

Jewish Family Service representatives declined to comment on the possible ramifications for the agency, but Jack Mayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance, said even if secession were to pass, The Federation and its agencies would find a way to continue their funding.

"We’re a service delivery organization, so we would work with whatever government structures are appropriate," Mayer said. "The organization of the Jewish community is not dependent on the organization of the City of Los Angeles.

"We work with elected officials throughout the area and would continue to have strong and positive relationships with elected officials, no matter how they are organized. Even in the Valley Alliance we work with a number of different cities: Calabasas, Burbank, all the way to Thousand Oaks. We’re not limited in that sense," he said.

Most community leaders agree that the Valley secession’s primary impact on the Jewish community would be more psychological and political than financial. Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has spent the past year participating in a special task force of the Council of Religious Leaders (CRL) exploring the moral issues surrounding secession. He said it doesn’t take a genius to see that secession will not be helpful to the Jewish community.

"I happen to live in the Valley and work in the city and get to travel all around, and this is a very big issue," Diamond said. "It is already hard for people in the Conejo and San Fernando valleys to feel a part of the greater Jewish community. This is part of life in Los Angeles, that we do not seem as unified as the Jewish communities of Chicago or Detroit or Baltimore.

"It troubles me because there’s an intrinsic bond between Jews all over the world and if a Jew living in the San Fernando Valley doesn’t feel a connection to a Jew living in Hancock Park, let alone Argentina, we’ve got real problems," he said.

Diamond said there are some positive effects of raising the issue of secession.

"In our seminars, studies and investigation over the past year [the task force has] learned there are a lot of disenfranchised people out there and to bring that to the fore is very important," he said. "First, people feel they do not have the access to decision making in their community. Second, some people have the erroneous belief that this is a bunch of rich, white people wanting to break away from the poor city, and that is not true. One of our most enlightening days was a tour we took of Pacoima and parts of Van Nuys, where we saw there were real areas of need in the Valley."

Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who along with Diamond is serving on the CRL task force, said another factor to consider in examining secession is its effects on relationships between Jews and other minorities on both sides of the hill.

"Politically, secession would dilute the power of the Jewish community both in their representation in the city and in the Valley. It would really impel the Jewish community to form broader coalitions with a variety of groups," Henkin said.

The need to establish such coalitions could make for an interesting shift in the political landscape, said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at California State University Fullerton who specializes in racial and ethnic politics.

"The Jewish community is like the Latino community geographically, in that they both straddle the north-south divide with the Latinos on the Eastside and in the East Valley and the Jews on the Westside and in the southwest Valley," Sonenshein explained. "Not everyone is divided that way; the African American community, for example, is not. But Latinos and Jews are likely to be the pivotal voters in how the decision is made."

Sonenshein said what may also be at stake is the broader role Jews have played in government in Los Angeles.

"Even during the Riordan period, the Jewish community remained very active at City Hall and still is today," he said. "But if we actually had secession carry through, it would have a whole different dynamic."

Longtime Los Angeles City Council Member Ruth Galanter has had to fend off two secession attempts in her district, one in Venice and one in Westchester. She said that if people in the Jewish community are committed to improving their relationships with non-Jews, they are better off working as a cohesive whole.

"To the extent that anti-Semitism exists, it doesn’t make sense to be separate," noted Galanter. "It’s better to be part of one large community and reach across the greater Los Angeles community to build relationships."

Galanter also said that if the Jewish community wants a more representative government, secession is not necessarily the way to go.

"There is a rhetorical bandwagon out there crying that the government [in the City of Los Angeles] is not responsive, but that is not necessarily true. Council members spend all day long responding to things in their district," she said. "The danger in the kind of rhetoric I’m hearing is that it just obscures the issue of learning to be close to [the representatives] who can fix things in your neighborhood."

But former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a secession supporter, disagrees.

"If we have more districts representing fewer people, those areas that are more Jewish might have better representation because we have always had a disproportionate number of Jewish people on the City Council," he said.

Overall, it is difficult to predict the effect of secession on the Jewish community of Los Angeles. In many ways, the current situation in Los Angeles reflects the split within our community itself, between those in the city and those in the Valley areas. As embodied in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Valley Alliance, that "split" has been successful only to the extent both sides recognize that they are on the same team.

"I think it strengthens the community to have people from different parts of the community with different perspectives," said Mayer. "The Federation weaves us together."

Were the city of Los Angeles to discover a similar common denominator, perhaps secession would be unnecessary. But the polls paint a different picture: the latest numbers from a Los Angeles Times survey this month show 55 percent of Valley residents in favor of secession and other areas of the city almost evenly split on secession. Clearly, many Valley residents do feel that they would be better off as an independent city.

In the next article in this series, The Journal will explore whether the Jewish community’s feelings reflect those of Los Angeles overall.

Secession Won’t Work


Last month, the ground lurched beneath the crowd trying to split the San Fernando Valley from the rest of Los Angeles. The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) determining whether and how breakup proposals reach the ballot, turned the rallying cry of Valley secessionists on its head. Brushing aside any meaningful definition of “self-determination,” LAFCO recommends that a new Valley city initially contract for basic services like police and fire from, well, the existing City of Los Angeles.

And those vexing questions of the division of assets between L.A. and Valley city? Just too darned complicated to figure out till after the breakup. There may be no better antidote for secession fever than a dose of the facts. While Valley residents — indeed, all L.A. city residents — have legitimate gripes, from sidewalk repair to the speed of emergency medical services, secession doesn’t really respond to them.

For example, relegating the new Valley city to the role of consumer of services means losing, not gaining control. Take the police department: In many Valley neighborhoods the issue of community-based policing was on the front burner after L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks eliminated key community contacts called Senior Lead Officers. A grass-roots campaign persuaded elected and appointed representatives to overturn Parks’ decision. Mere consumers, without elected representation on LAPD issues, would never have had that impact.

Secessionists invoke Revolutionary War rhetoric, but secession would, in fact, lead directly to taxation without representation: Under LAFCO’s formulation, policy-making power over the things that taxes fund would rest downtown.

The secessionists’ claim that they would turn to the marketplace for alternatives if L.A. officials were unresponsive is disingenuous. No jurisdiction has ever successfully geared up to compete for 1.4 million new customers seeking water, sewage treatment or law enforcement services.

Breakup advocates may be struggling to regroup, but this should hardly lead to rejoicing at City Hall. Citywide, the challenge to improve the quality of life is made more daunting by the revelation that tax receipts are far below revenue forecasts. This much, though, is clear: Every minute spent on secession would be better devoted to actually tackling Los Angeles’ problems.


Mike Feuer is the Los Angeles city councilman for the 5th district.

This commentary first aired on KPCC FM 89.3 on Oct. 12, 2001.

Morality of Secession


When Rabbi Mark Diamond sits with Lutherans, Catholics and Baptists to weigh the social and moral ramifications of Valley secession, he keeps in mind an idea from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “I am against the word politician. I have great respect for the word statesman…. Statesman is a great word…. The task of a statesman is to be a leader, an educator, and not to cater to what people desire, almost against their own interests. To be a leader.”

“That speaks powerfully to many of the questions we’re asking,” says Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. “You can have politicians whose main concern is to be re-elected, and you can have that in a large city or in two medium cities. Or you can have statesmen and women who feel for the needs of the entire citizenry, and you can have that in larger cities or in smaller cities,” Diamond says.

Like others on the panel, including Rabbi Alan Henkin, director of Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Diamond has yet to decide whether smaller means better.

He and a 10-member interfaith group of the Council of Religious Leaders are still listening to what proponents and opponents have to say on the morality of secession by the Valley, Hollywood or San Pedro.

The all-volunteer research and discussion group was formed last spring when Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger M. Mahony brought up the idea at a monthly meeting of the Council of Religious Leaders, an independent interfaith group that discusses issues relevant to the city. Diamond and Henkin sit on the council, along with representatives of other western faith groups, primarily Christian.

“We have this secession movement underway in our area that could very well affect the lives of a lot of folks in our respective churches, and there are a number of issues that could be considered moral or ethical issues that we need to look into,” explains Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and for the group.

The drive to reorganize the city into smaller components is moving ahead full force, with the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission working on the final phases of analysis. The issue of the Valley becoming its own city could be on the ballot by November 2002.

The group — which is not connected to any of the city, state or county organizations researching the viability of restructuring Los Angeles — hopes to have a preliminary report by fall and a final report in spring 2002. The report will be submitted to the Council of Religious Leaders, which will then determine whether to make the findings public and whether to issue any recommendations. Whether officials involved in the process take those recommendations seriously remains to be seen.

One of the first tasks of the group is to figure out exactly what the moral issues are.

The group is gathering information through separate closed-door hearings with proponents and opponents of secession. So far, it has focused on services provided to the poor and disadvantaged, adequate representation and allocation of resources.

While opponents contend that splitting Los Angeles will dilute the city’s grant-winning power in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., advocates say a smaller city can more adequately look out for the needs of its constituents.

“I think what we pointed out and what the committee acknowledged was that Los Angeles is currently failing the poor,” says Jeff Brain, president of Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment (Valley VOTE).

To finance services for the poor, Brain says, the city spends 1 percent of its budget — $52 million — whereas a smaller city like Glendale spends 20 percent — $32 million.

Opponents, who in the group’s five meetings have included aides to former Mayor Richard Riordan and other city officials, say that an independent Valley would still face all the urban challenges of the city, and would have fewer resources to deal with them.

“In a divorce, nobody wins, no matter how you divide things up,” Bill Violante, Riordan’s deputy mayor, told the Los Angeles Times after one meeting. “[Mayor Riordan] believes that there is no way breaking up could be of benefit to the haves or the have-nots.”

Brain, on the other hand, says breaking up the city will give fairer representation to poorer communities in the Valley and in the city, which now get lost amid the 250,000 people represented by each L.A. City Council member — the worst ratio in the country.

“When you represent 250,000 people, you have to raise a lot of money to get elected, and so money and influence become a big factor, not people,” Brain says. “But in a small, contiguous district, the feet of elected officials are held to the fire, and they are held accountable.”

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, says he has listened to both sides with an open mind, but he is not convinced that breaking the city up is the answer.

“I’ve always been one who has embraced the idea of a great city working together. I’m not stuck in the mindset that things are not so good here,” he told The Journal.

Jacobs, who gave testimony to the group, says he’d rather wait to see if the neighborhood councils that are called for in the new city charter will provide more responsive local representation.

Jacobs also believes that inequality in the allocation of resources is not a Valley-versus-city problem.

“White people in the Valley do get fairly good services, whereas minorities don’t. So, to me, it’s not a Valley issue, it’s a matter of being fair, particularly to the people at or below the poverty level,” Jacobs says.

The group is also concerned about how common resources such as water, power and emergency services would be allocated.

To make its case, Valley VOTE has called in the president of the NAACP in the Valley; South Central residents who lead CORE, the Coalition on Racial Equality; service providers to the poor; and clergy members from various faiths.

The group is also doing some of its own research, collecting reports and ideas from professors and other experts. In September, group members will meet with theologians and ethicists. Also in the fall, they will spend a day with religious leaders in the Valley and those servicing the poor.

All members of the group agree the process has been fascinating and important.

“To sit around a table with people who come from different faith traditions, who are interested in the welfare and well-being of the entire community — I think it’s good for all of us to do that,” Tamberg says. “It shows what a really healthy ecumenical setting we enjoy here in Southern California.”

Rabbi Mark Diamond welcomes comments and input about this
process. Contact him at the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, (323)
761-8600, or e-mail mdiamond@jewishla.org .

Uniting Community


As the Jewish community gathers for the Valley Jewish Festival, we must ask ourselves whether there is, in fact, a Los Angeles Jewish community to speak of. If we define community as “a group of people defined by a geographical area,” then we can refer to the Jewish community of Los Angeles as such. But if we wish to imply that a community is “a cohesive yet diverse group bound together as one,” then I do not believe that Los Angeles fulfills this qualification.

This is not to say that we do not come together for the needs of our geographical community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is the primary address of the geographical Los Angeles Jewish community. It strives to address our multifaceted needs, set an agenda and bring together diverse elements for some sense of unity. Its agencies, affiliates and myriad activities are to be commended for its monumental work.

But even The Federation has acknowledged that real community is not created by fiat or budgets. Much like the growth pains of Los Angeles that created the birth pains of a Valley-secessionist movement, The Federation wisely heard the Jewish voices of the Valley and created the Valley Alliance to address the unique needs of the “valleys” beyond the city limits.

It is more than just an administrative detail that half of the Jews of greater Los Angeles live north of Mulholland. And it is more than just an issue of equal representation. It is the knowledge that community is created through the tangible and meaningful connections between individuals and institutions. While it is essential that people establish relationships, equally important to the equation of community is for institutions to work together.

Just as it is difficult for someone to feel part of a synagogue community by coming once a year to services and being inundated by congregational mailings, a Jew in Los Angeles will not identity as a Jewish Los Angeleno simply by visiting a Jewish festival and reading The Jewish Journal.

If we really wish to provide a Jewish communal identity for the Jews of Los Angeles, we must divide into smaller communities and share more personal experiences. The congregants of my synagogue cannot possibly feel connected to every fellow Conservative synagogue member in Los Angeles, let alone the synagogue members of the other movements and the unaffiliated.

We need to divide the megatropolis of Los Angeles into neighborhoods. It was the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights and Fairfax that felt a sense of community, and today it is felt in the Pico-Robertson area. We must create, even if it is artificial, neighborhoods that help people feel this connection.

In the west San Fernando Valley we have begun to build what I believe should be the model for the entire area of greater Los Angeles. We have created rabbinic and lay task forces that meet on an ongoing basis to establish relationships and joint programs for “our community.”

Thanks to the vision of people like Jack Mayer, the executive director of the Valley Alliance, we bring together the leadership from synagogues, the Valley Alliance, the JCC and other Jewish agencies to utilize the strengths of each organization and meet the needs of the community.

During the past eight years, we have created many programs including Chanukah festivals and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) programs. Temple Aliyah, Temple Solael (now Temple Judea), Shomrei Torah Synagogue and the Calabasas Shul have gathered together for several years to perform tashlich during the High Holy Days.

And this year, with a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, these synagogues, joined by Or Ami of Calabasas, participated in a joint educational program. The five-week Winter Kallah program brought together the congregants from across the spectrum of Jewish life, thereby breaking down the stereotypes about “Jews who don’t care” and “Jews who are intolerant.”

We have succeeded in creating our community because each organization is willing to surrender its individual ego for “our community.” Rather than viewing each other as competitors, we view each other as partners with a mission to serve the Jewish people. Too often territorialism or the desire for recognition creates boundaries to unity. There are still a couple of synagogues that do not participate actively in our programs. Sadly, I believe that they are so egocentrically motivated that their leadership and congregants hardly notice.

I would like to challenge Federation, the Southern California Board of Rabbis and all Jewish organizations to establish Jewish communities throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Where possible, I believe that these communities should be built around the neutral sites of Jewish Community Centers. Like the political districts designed for voter representation, we should sit down and devise an intelligent restructuring of Los Angeles Jewry into meaningful communities. The biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a reminder of where community begins.

While the Valley Jewish Festival might acknowledge two distinct Jewish communities comprising “the city” and “the valley,” I believe that even these are too cumbersome and impersonal. Let us challenge our leaders to establish more personal communities that can better address our needs and provide the feeling of community we all dream of.

Too Close to Call


Fangs bared and chests thrust out, the competitors stepped into the ring and proceeded to demolish each other in ways both fair and unfair.

Was it the World Wrestling Federation? No, just another debate on Valley secession.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League invited representatives of both sides of the secession issue to speak on the Valley’s favorite topic at Adat Ari El in North Hollywood. About 65 people attended. Representing the “pro” side were Jeff Brain, president of Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment (VOTE) and Earl Greinetz, the current president of the Jewish Home for the Aging and past president of the Jewish Federation’s Valley Alliance. Speaking against secession were Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Feuer and H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D., an associate dean at the University of Southern California.

The debate got off to a lively start when a heckler interrupted Aaron Levinson, director of the ADL’s Valley office, during his introductory run-down of the organization’s current projects.

“I thought we were here to learn about secession — what’s this got to do with it?” asked the man, setting the tone of the evening for the “Just the facts, please” crowd.

Facts can be tough to get at when emotions run high, however. Feuer began by saying he felt secession was wrong for Los Angeles as a whole and for L.A. Jews in particular.

“We have a principle that says, ‘Don’t separate yourself from the community,'” Feuer said. “I agree the Valley should be seeking better services from the city of Los Angeles. The question is not if the desire is appropriate, but what way should that desire be achieved?