Posted by Keith on Jul 1, 2002 - 12:21:00 PM
WEST HOLLYWOOD—Secession. It's a searing, tearing word. A ripping of social fabric that proclaims civic, cultural and political failure. Separatism by another name. And, it's what our neighbors in the Valley and Hollywood are intent upon accomplishing come the November election. How did it come to this? The municipal rending of the country's second largest city didn't happen in a vacuum. So who fell asleep at the wheel?
The obvious answer is city and county officials. Their seemingly myopic, parochial and territorial management has antagonized entire segments of the population, further eroding public confidence in the business of governance.
Politically, the last fifteen years in L.A. have been uninspired, short-sighted and disconnected, with the consequences now looming. Those leaders certainly bear fault. But the harder answer is really something else, a repudiation as it turns out, and tellingly, though inadvertently, expressed by two letter writers to the L.A. Times recently. In admonishing anti-secessionists, one Los Angeles resident writes, "...By the way, has anybody driven through West Hollywood lately? Independence has never looked better." The implication, of course, is that cityhood automatically brings prosperity. But another asks, "Do secessionists really believe that, overnight, the Valley will become like West Hollywood?"
Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood is home to fine dining and high-end boutiques. Photo by Jessica Griffiths/Canyon News
This really gets to the heart of the matter, namely that a governing charter doesn't make a city. People do. West Hollywood is held up as an example of civic success not because of municipal independence, but because of the local populous. We on the West side enjoy relative cultural homogeneity, bereft of the competing group politics that roil social issues throughout much of the rest of the metro area, and resulting in safe and attractive neighborhoods. Though this may evoke images of class consciousness and social standing, those are facts on the ground. The Valley sees this and attributes it to cityhood, when in reality it's a matter of citizenry. It's also a matter of common sense. Twenty-five years ago, California embarked on a conscientious and noble experiment in social engineering.
This was soon followed by major changes in immigration laws, subsequently creating bias toward the previously under-represented Third World. The convergence of these two events, in addition to creating budget-busting unfunded federal mandates for state and local government, turned what had begun with the best of intentions into the modern-day equivalent of the Tower of Babel. Idealism gave way to identity politics. Multiculturalism replaced a sense of community and commonality. Business saw opportunities to profit by way of worker exploitation, all the while giving incentive to illegal immigration. And the shrill indignation of special interests turned dialog into one-way communiques. The center could not hold, as Valley secession demonstrates in stark relief. Diversity for its own sake has erected walls, not bridges, and the pluralistic ideals of the past have devolved into ethnic chauvinism, as group rights displaced individual rights.
These are not the tenets upon which to build an equitable society, and were certainly not the intentions of the original multi-culture advocates. At least, I hope not. But L.A., once the envy of the nation, now finds itself not only seriously polarized, but increasingly poor as well. Whether the issue is public education, health care or cultural unity, things are a mess, with the one common thread being divisiveness. Can you blame the Valley for wanting out? The experiment hasn't worked. Admirable as it was, social engineering has failed to deliver anything worth emulating by a nation that looks to us for social and political trends. The message now being sent is, "If you want your metropolitan areas to balkanize, then follow our lead."
These are topics that are not ordinarily debated in public, deemed too inflammatory to discuss openly. And for precisely that unwillingness to address those issues do we now confront the break-up of Los Angeles. For so long, the hot embers were swept under the rug to avoid stepping on them, and now the whole house is on fire as a result. Somewhere along the line, progressiveness got high-jacked by "group think", as it became necessary to thwart human nature to accommodate cultural sensitivity. Where political correctness was once rightly employed as a means to an end, it has now become the end in itself. Race-based politics makes a mockery of citywide consensus, and ethnic loyalties trump all others. This is a "melting pot" alright. The pot is melting!
Do I think the Valley will transform overnight should secession pass? No. But having the ability to establish local autonomy over everything from public education (eventually) to voting district boundaries will at the very least impart a sense of building toward something better and more productive. L.A.'s vision of the future seems to entail nothing more than self-perpetuation and the same conflicting recipe that led to political and municipal gridlock in the first place. Maybe the Valley really does have a better idea. In any event, secession, it would seem, is the only realistic option left, and that's a seriously sad statement of affairs.
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