Yeah, Yeah, Diversity Is Strength. It's Also Secession.
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[ note: The secession issue is heating up - today the Los Angeles Times published the second of two vast stories [I, II FREE ACCESS, REGISTRATION REQUIRED], highlighting its own opposition/ignorance and the emergence of the Valley-based Los Angles Daily News as secession's standard-bearer.]

After WWII, the San Fernando Valley was the nirvana of the common man, the Promised Land where the average Joe could afford to buy his place in the sun. Now The Valley might once again become a leader. If it manages to secede from Los Angeles and become an independent city of 1.35 million, it could confirm a national trend toward downsizing America's big cities.

I take Valley secession personally. I am an old Valley … uh, what's the male equivalent of a Valley Girl? … I am an old Valley Dude. A couple of years ago I moved back from Chicago to my hometown of Studio City, which is in the southeastern Valley, just over the Hollywood Hills from Beverly Hills.

Growing up, I'd always thought of "Studio City" as a perfectly normal name for a hometown. Then I went off to Rice U., where the Houstonians found me disappointing. They felt that as a Studio Citizen, I should be calling my agent while paddling around in one of those inflatable pool chairs.

There was a good reason for my naiveté. When I left for college in 1976, Studio City was a transition zone between two radically different spheres of influence: Hollywood and the military-industrial complex. Sure, a few screen gods lorded it above us in the Hills. But the flatlands of Studio City were middle-middle class. My father, for example, worked for 41 years for the nearby Lockheed Aircraft Corporation as a stress engineer. The prevailing ethos of hard work, sobriety, and moderate frugality reflected the kind of personality demanded by the aerospace industry.

Much has changed in The Valley. The weather has grown even lovelier. The smog has radically diminished, thanks to the kind of environmental laws that establishment "conservatives" constantly disparage, much to their electoral detriment.

Due in no small measure to the local aerospace firms, the good guys won the Cold War. Since 1991, the aerospace firms have mostly moved to the high desert north of The Valley. Some of the engineers and skilled machinists who built the SR-71, the fastest jet of all time, out of titanium have moved to the Pacific Coast north of San Diego. There, they fashion that tricky metal into golf clubs, a modern version of beating your swords into plowshares.

The expert metalworkers have gone with them - or decamped for Utah, Oregon, or other states where millions of immigrants don't yet drive wages down and housing costs up. On the site of the old Lockheed Skunk Works, Disney now makes animated features.

To somebody with a fondness for the middle-class egalitarianism of my youth, many of the changes are disquieting. Verbalists like me have filtered into Studio City to replace the engineers. At the local Kinko's, screenwriters photocopy their scripts all night long. The new generation of school kids can't tell a P-38 from an F-117, but can offer well-informed opinions on whether Attack of the Clones will open even bigger than Spider-Man.

The old Valley, with its abundance of skinflint machinists and engineers, was one of the do-it-yourself capitols of America. But the local screenwriters, lawyers, dealmakers, and character actors who now live along the Hollywood Hills in the affluent white southern tier of The Valley tend to have better verbal than visual intelligence. So they rely on an enormous number of Spanish-speaking immigrants for anything that would require getting their hands dirty. Wages for Hispanics are kept low by the constant pressure of the "reserve army of the unemployed" arriving daily from south of the border. A Guatemalan gardener makes about 10% as much per hour as a white personal trainer.

Beyond the fifth grade level, the public schools are a mess, due in part to immigration-driven overcrowding and language problems. An abundance of private schools with annual costs in the $12,000 to $19,200 range have taken up the slack for the wealthy.

In contrast to the lush neighborhoods south of the Ventura Freeway, the northeast and central sections of the Valley look like Tijuana. People on both sides of the secession fight cite this constantly. Anti-secessionists in West L.A. suggest that any place that looks as dreary as The Valley needs the guidance of the enlightened Westside. Secessionists argue that the scruffiness is because Los Angeles has treated The Valley like a redheaded stepchild.

Municipal government can only do so much about this problem. Much of The Valley looks like Tijuana for the simple reason that many of its inhabitants used to live in Tijuana. That's the direct responsibility of Washington D.C.

The San Fernando Valley secession movement has gained momentum this year. Today, 59% of Valleyites say they'd vote to leave Los Angeles, even though L.A. is asking for a $61 million annual alimony payment for ten years, or roughly $1,800 per family of four.

Secession is the inevitable result of 1] population growth and 2] developing diversity. As Los Angeles has become more crowded—largely due to immigration, in recent decades - local government has gotten bigger and thus less responsive. There are now a quarter million L.A. residents per city councilman. Further, the emotional ties binding L.A. residents have loosened. Freeway traffic has gotten so bad that residents of The Valley and The Basin visit each other less and less.

Until recently, nobody thought Los Angeles would vote to let The Valley go. But black politicians in South-Central are now warming to the idea. The Valley is about evenly split between whites and Hispanics, with few blacks. Thus, jettisoning The Valley would destroy what's left of the Republican Party in L.A. and postpone the Hispanic takeover of the city's Democratic Party. Secession might make basketball legend and inner city entrepreneur Magic Johnson the Mayor of Los Angeles.

The term "local government" has become an oxymoron in Los Angeles, with its 3.7 million residents. Joel Kotkin, my levelheaded neighbor here in The Valley, endorsed secession on

"This issue—the right-sizing of local governance—could well turn this largely middle-class uprising into a successful revolution."

The problem with Valley secession, however, is not that The Valley is too small to survive on its own—it would be the sixth biggest city in America. Instead, it would still be too big—and too divided.

The chief advantages of suburban independence are 1] fostering competition among municipalities; 2] providing demographic homogeneity so that government services can more precisely meet citizens' needs.

I lived for many years in Chicago, which is surrounded by a multitude of suburbs that compete fiercely for taxpayers by offering first-rate schools, playgrounds, municipal golf courses and the like. For example, Wilmette is a North Shore suburb whose market niche is attracting affluent young families with extraordinary public services. (Even its massive taxes benefit property values, since they serve to keep out the riff-raff.) Wilmette's high school, New Trier, is one of the most famous in the U.S. It even has its own FM radio station. Similarly, Wilmette's latest fieldhouse looks like a Palm Springs health spa, with 94,000 sq. feet of recreation area spread across 75 posh rooms.

In contrast, The Valley has notoriously bad public schools and other facilities because it's part of the vast City of Los Angeles. Government agencies don't have many neighboring cities to keep them alert.

For years, Republicans have been committing political suicide by backing state-level voucher plans, such as the recent crashing and burning of Wall Street Journal Edit Page's favorite Bret Schundler in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. What GOP ideologues don't grasp is that affluent homeowners don't want slum kids using vouchers to get into their local schools. The high test scores of their schools translate directly into property value. People who live in exclusive suburbs want to keep them that way.

Perhaps no large urban area in the United States appears more intended by nature to be self-governing than the mountain-ringed San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, what might once have been the most homogenous middle class area in America is no more. The Valley's increasingly Latin American level of inequality negates many of the advantages of breaking free from L.A. Next, the Valley itself may break up: the affluent South; the middle class white North West; the Hispanic North East. You read it here first.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]


May 31, 2002

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