Valley Secession

Will Latino political clout be the deciding factor?

By Gil Contreras
Published on LatinoLA: September 25, 2002

Valley Secession

I?m always amazed at the perception of Latino Political Clout. Since Latinos are now roughly 40 percent of the local population, some believe this translates, somehow, to political prowess. Unfortunately, it does not. And, although Latinos make up a large percentage of the San Fernando Valley population that supports Valley Secession, most probably won?t even go to the polls to cast their vote.

However, this may not be such a bad thing. Not only have most African-American leaders such as Rev. Cecil Murray and the local chapters of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference come out against secession, but so too have the Latin Business Association and the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund.

As a Valley resident and a Latino, I find that the more I hear about secession, the less I like it. My life in Woodland Hills is by all accounts, a quiet and safe one. My daughter goes to a magnet school in the Valley, my wife and I walk to Starbucks for lattes, and on Sunday?s in the summer, I can walk to Warner Park and hear live concerts for free (the last of which was Tierra!). There is no gang problem in Woodland Hills, no abandoned cars, little graffiti, and no undercover cops conducting undercover ?buy/bust? operations in front of my kids.

The Daily News (9/16/02) had a front-page story recently outlining the gang problem that exists in the Valley. The article stated that there are some 80 gangs in the Valley with membership somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000. Now there?s an issue worth getting behind! Instead having an ongoing debate about how much better off we would all be if the Valley seceded from the city, we should be concerned about what the hell the new LAPD chief is going to do about the gang problem in the Valley!

The LAPD Rampart Scandal has so scared cops and politicians alike, that gangs now operate in the Valley with impunity, which has nothing to do with secession. A smaller city government isn?t going to help alleviate the rising gang problem in the Valley, or the lack of parental involvement by adults whose kids are tagging the neighborhood, doing drive-by shootings, or buying and selling drugs. It would seem that the selection of the next LAPD chief is a much more critical issue than breaking the Valley away from the City of Angels.

However, once again, politics and the perception of Latino Political Clout may be the deciding factor. Should Mayor James Hahn select former LAPD Deputy Chief Art Lopez (current chief of Oxnard PD) because by doing so he may solidify the Latino vote when re-election time rolls around, since the African-American community may still be harboring ill will towards the mayor over Bernie Parks' getting the boot from the LAPD top cop slot?

It appears from the release of the short list of LAPD chief hopefuls, that the best candidates (enter Kroeker, Kalish, York) may have been left off that list because they could not guarantee a significant voting population at election time, because the LAPD might not be ready for a gay or female chief, and forget that the only candidate who seems to have the support of the rank and file is Kroeker. If Lopez is made the next chief, don?t expect to see cops at the L.A. Police Protective League (their union) doing cartwheels down the hallway, talking about how morale is on its way up. By all indications, Lopez, according to his interview with the L.A. Times (9/23/02) plans to go along with the mayor and city council on most issues. That?s not what the LAPD needs, more politics-driven police management.

It is clear that only two groups in the Valley actually support secession; 1) business and property owners, who hope that the new smaller city will afford them more access to government programs, tax benefits and political clout for pet projects, and, 2) residents and activists of the besieged Northeast Valley (that Latino and black enclave that is gang and crime ridden) who are hoping that secession will afford them the same access the business and property owners hope to attain.

The mistake activists are making, however, is forgetting that a smaller city could actually have the reverse effect. Activists could find that the new smaller city is more business and property owner-friendly than activist-friendly, and actually find that what little political and economic clout they had, may in fact, decrease.

Secession backers at both ends of the political and socioeconomic spectrum seem to be forgetting that not all Latinos need to access social services on a daily basis, not all our kids are involved in gangs, and for those of us who are not downtrodden and disenfranchised, we do get out on election day to vote. To assume that Latinos have now miraculously galvanized and realize the political clout their sheer number should ensure would be a mistake.

I remember covering the 1994 elections and proposition 187, and later proposition 209, as a radio reporter and talk show host, and found that the majority of Latinos I interviewed at demonstrations had little or no knowledge about the issue they marching about. And although those measures were defeated, the defeat wasn?t as a result of extensive research on the subject, but rather the use of Latino voting numbers. It wasn?t so important that the voters knew the issue, as much as it was important that they go to the polls and vote the measures down. Some, who had come all the way from Orange County, told me they were told to get on the bus at their social service agency because they had to go protest an issue in Los Angeles. ?So?I came,? I was told by one Latina in her 40?s. This is not Latino Political Clout, this is racial/politico manipulation.

In my own activist days, I remember thinking that if we could ever speak with one voice, we might actually change the way government operates, and therefore, increase the quality of life for those less fortunate than myself. That all dissipated, however, after years of working in the community, only to find that those less fortunate didn?t want a hand, they wanted a handout?a government handout. I found most gang members didn?t want out of gangs, most parents wouldn?t take control over their kids in an effective way even if they took parenting classes, and violence, drug and alcohol use seem to be accepted as part of the Latino way of life in lower socioeconomic communities.

The myth of Latino Political Clout is just that, a myth. The vast majority of Valley residents, such as myself, Latino and non-Latino, who are not business or property owner insiders, and not Latino activists, will benefit little from secession, and can, at this point, find no reason to support it. I guess we?ll have to wait and see who actually shows up to vote on election day.

My guess is I?ll go to sleep on election night in Los Angeles and wake up in the same city I went to sleep in.

(c)2002 All Rights Reserved.

About Gil Contreras:
Gil Contreras is a former poilce officer, award winning journalist (Golden Mike 1998), and freelance writer living in The Valley. Email Gil at

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