CONNIE KAY is one of a group of south Mar Vista homeowners who thinks breaking away from Los Angeles due to a lack of infrastructure repairs is an idea worth considering. Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Homeowners contemplate seceding from los angeles

By Gary Walker

Frustrated by what they feel is a disconnect between their local council district and their concerns over infrastructure challenges, a group of homeowners in southern Mar Vista have been meeting in recent weeks to quietly examine the possibility of leaving Los Angeles for their eastern neighbor, Culver City.

Although the discussions are in their nascent stage, the potential loss of property values, the feeling of being ignored and disenchantment with city government are apparently fueling the desire for greener pastures to the point where leaders of the South Mar Vista Association recently took the temperature of the organization to see how deep-seated the feelings for annexation or secession are among their neighbors and friends.

An email obtained by The Argonaut illustrates some of their grievances against the city government in a straw poll conducted recently to gauge the level of interest in exploring becoming part of Culver City.

The results of the poll were not provided.

“A group of residents and business owners of south Mar Vista have been meeting for several months to discuss the pros and cons of south Mar Vista being run by Culver City instead of Los Angeles,” the email begins.

“Some of the items that have been the topic of discussion is that south Mar Vistans put millions of tax dollars in the city of Los Angeles’ coffers and basically get nothing in return. The streets are full of potholes, you can’t drive down most alleyways without damaging your car; the streets are filthy and some are not even cleaned on a weekly basis; the city has a build, build, build policy so that they can build up city funds with permit fees and total disregard to the increased density and increased traffic, making all streets south and north gridlocked from around 4-7 p.m. every day and we have a mayor working about one hour per day to run this city.

“These are just some of the topics that I understand have been discussed, however there is much more,” the email concludes.

Secession is defined as the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity.

The borders that the residents recommend in a possible annexation would be Venice Boulevard on the north side of the street and Beethoven Street to the east.

The Los Angeles community of Palms lies to the east of the 405 freeway before the Culver City border.

The Mar Vista Library and Fire Station 62 on Venice and the Mar Vista Post Office on Grand View Boulevard are government facilities that would fall within the suggested boundaries.

Chris McKinnon, a south Mar Vista resident since 1989, says he has not decided if he would support being annexed into Culver City but thinks he and his neighbors could benefit from being part of a smaller city.

“When Los Angeles had money we got nothing. Now that (the city) they don’t have any money, we’re not going to get anything. So would we be better off with Culver City?” he asked. “They may rebound (from the current economic downturn) faster than a larger city like Los Angeles and they have a history of improving infrastructure in their city. Maybe not in residential areas, but definitely in commercial areas.”

Curtis Ripley, a neighbor of McKinnon’s on North Park Avenue, also thinks a conversation about being annexed into Culver City has merit.

“My inclination is to say yes, but I don’t think that Los Angeles will let it happen,” he said.

Eleven years ago, a larger plan to break away from Los Angeles captured the attention of residents and city lawmakers for the better part of 18 months when political and business leaders in the San Fernando Valley advocated creating their own city. Along with complaints of infrastructure deficiencies, Valley residents claimed Los Angeles political leaders took them for granted and for the amount of taxes that they pay they never received an equal amount of city services.

The secession movement culminated in a ballot initiative Nov. 6, 2001 but Measure F was soundly trounced, 67 percent to 33. Then-Mayor James Hahn, the brother of Rep. Janice Hahn, led the fight to keep the Valley and Los Angeles together.

McKinnon, a former Mar Vista Community Council treasurer, said he does not think that street maintenance, synchronization of traffic lights at certain intersections, landscaping and recycling bins at bus stops on Venice are on the radar of Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office.

“I don’t think they have an infrastructure priority,” he said.

Rosendahl, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer in the pelvic region, lives in Mar Vista and also represents the area.

Mike Bonin, Rosendahl’s chief of staff, has heard the rumblings about annexation. “We’re not sure who’s behind (the rumors),” Bonin said.

Like McKinnon, Connie Kay is frustrated at the lack of attention given to street repairs and curbs on hers and her neighbors’ homes.

“I’ve been trying to get my streets paved for 26 years. I see what Culver City does for their residents,” said Kay, who lives a block away from McKinnon and works at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City.

Bonin said there are two ways of breaking away from the city: through secession or through annexation. “Both are long-term, exhaustive processes,” noted Bonin, who worked for former Councilwoman Ruth Galanter during the Valley cityhood movement.

The dilemma of including government facilities, particularly the fire station and the library, could also be problematic for Mar Vista residents seeking to break away from Los Angeles.

“City voters created those facilities through their taxes,” Bonin noted. “Any city that would annex them would be on the hook to pay off the bonds on each of them.”

McKinnon acknowledges that the government buildings might prove to be problematic in an annexation to Culver City.

“If I was going to draw a border, it would be on the north side of Venice and we would jog around the library and the fire station,” he suggested. “We could also offer Culver City the option of buying the facilities, but Los Angeles may not want to sell them.”

Culver City City Manager John Nachbar said his office had not been formally approached by anyone regarding annexation or secession to Culver City.

A sustainability movement, an active community council, the creation of a popular farmers market and a push for solar energy has landed Mar Vista on the map throughout Los Angeles as an innovative community. The farmers market in particular has allowed the community to forge a collective identity that did not exist until the last decade or so and that feeling resonates with many residents.

But McKinnon says community identification or the farmers market has not helped his neighborhood in terms of having its streets and curbs repaired.

“What benefit has the farmers market done for the infrastructure for south Mar Vista?” he asked. “I’m not slamming the market’s management or the market itself, but it could move.

“There’s no benefit to having a sign that says ‘Mar Vista’ if your library needs landscaping,” he continued. “Identity is one thing, but it doesn’t pay.”

Sarah Auerswald, who lives in south Mar Vista, disagrees that community touchstones like the farmers market and having a sense of community identity are unimportant.

“I’m not in favor (of annexation or secession),” said Auerswald, who writes a popular neighborhood blog called “Mar Vista Mom.”

Auerswald, who lives two blocks from the farmers market site, supported it from the outset and takes great pride in the green initiatives as well as Solar Mar Vista. “I think we’ve benefited by living in Mar Vista through Open Mar Vista (a neighborhood social network) and the farmers market,” she said.

In order for McKinnon’s neighborhood to secede, it would not be solely south Mar Vista residents voting for or against it, Bonin pointed out.

“The entire city would vote,” he said.

In addition, it is unknown if the Department of Water and Power would continue to provide water and electricity to south Mar Vista if it became part of Culver City. Southern California Edison serves Culver City.

Auerswald said she and other parents are worried about what will happen to their neighborhood school, Grand View Boulevard Elementary School, if the community is annexed to Culver City.

“Parents whom I have talked to want to know how they will be affected,” she said. “There are parents whose kids go to charters and magnets as well, and Culver City has neither.”

In recent years, Culver City, like many other municipalities, has deferred maintenance of some of its city’s infrastructure. But Kay thinks it could be worth the risk becoming part of Culver City.

“Our need for services would eventually be acknowledged and in a smaller city we might get better treatment,” she said.

Bonin thinks it is highly unlikely that Los Angles city officials would back a south Mar Vista secession plan.

“And I don’t think Councilman Rosendahl would either,” he added.

McKinnon paraphrased a now universally famous line from a hit 1976 film by actor Peter Finch as irate newscaster Howard Beale to sum up the feelings that many of his neighbors have regarding their desire to consider becoming part of Culver City.

“It’s like ‘Network,’” he concluded. “We can’t take it anymore.”¤