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San Fernando Valley Feels Disconnected From Local Politics

Jennifer Whalen |
March 4, 2011 | 7:13 a.m. PST


It is a quiet, cold weekend morning in the San Fernando Valley and many residents are still waking up from last night’s outings. At about 10 a.m. Pierce College, the intersection of Winnetka and Victory is deserted, although as the minutes pass more cars are present on the streets of Winnetka. 

With all its public schools, the Valley could use more public transportation (Creative Commons)
With all its public schools, the Valley could use more public transportation (Creative Commons)

With only a few weeks before the March 8 City Council elections, San Fernando Valley District 12 residents struggle to connect with their local government. District 12 in the San Fernando Valley comprises Northridge, Granada Hills, Chatsworth, Canoga Park, Porter Ranch, Van Nuys, Encino, West Hills, North Hills, Lake Balboa, Reseda, and Winnetka. On the website of the current District 12 City Councilman Greig Smith, he boasts that the area is surrounded by “green open space and parks, safe and beautiful neighborhoods shopping amenities and quiet tree-lined streets.”

Jeff Lewis, unimpressed with the work of an “invisible” Los Angeles city council, between bites of fried eggs and sausage at his home in Winnetka remarks, “I don’t care what they do, as long as I hear that they’re doing something.”

Lewis, 34, a cinematographer originally from Pennsylvania continued, “you never hear of them doing anything. I don’t think I have even received anything in the mail to be able to vote or register.”

Ryan Corbin, 30, has lived in the Van Nuys area since moving to Los Angeles County seven years ago, “I had totally forgotten that it was election time again. I haven’t seen any campaign posters or anything, so it kind of slipped my mind that I needed to be doing research on the candidates. Come to think of it, I don’t even know who they are.” Corbin doesn’t know whom he will vote for when election time comes around, but plans on doing his research before heading to the polls.

Corbin describes Van Nuys as an area that has more neighborhoods than any area he has seen in the Los Angeles area. He added that there are a considerable amount of trees in the area, but along the streets, there are mostly telephone poles. “No matter who is elected, one thing the councilman can do is use to the tax payers money to be more diligent about repaving streets."

Corbin recently got his street repaved after dealing with pot holes for a “long time.” Other than moving road construction to the top of the city’s priority list, he could not think of any other issues with District 12.

Another resident was just as surprised as Corbin that Election Day was approaching. “There is an election coming up? Huh. I think I might have heard about it,” said Glenda Delgado, 39, a resident of Canoga Park.

“So, that’s all that information I received in the mail about a week ago. I haven’t looked through it yet, but I will.”

Delgado could not specifically name any issues being promoted by the candidates, but she does mention that road construction annoys her while commuting to work in Woodland Hills.

“I spend my work days reviewing HMO insurance claims, that can be frustrating enough let alone sitting in morning traffic so that construction workers can work on roads that don’t need work. It’s just a waste of my tax money.”

After the March elections, the Los Angeles City Council and the newly elected councilmember of district 12, has the job of balancing a $7 billion budget and closing a $350 million deficit while still maintaining public services Angelenos expect. Delgado was unaware of any budget issues in the area. “I don’t know anything about our budget. I hear nothing about it in the news I read or watch.”

Canoga Park Starbuck’s Coffee Manager Kim Keith, 23, said that she was unaware of an election, any budget issues or any issues at all. Keith also appeared to be misinformed regarding the difference between the city of San Fernando council and the Los Angeles City Council as she said, “I think the San Fernando Valley City Council is doing a great job.” In reality, no actual “San Fernando Valley City Council” exists.

Other residents of district 12 expressed disinterest with their local government. Peter Cambridge, 60, an accountant and long-time resident of Lake Balboa said he doesn’t pay any attention to local politics, “I am only concerned with politics at the state and national level.” Cambridge mentioned that when it’s time to vote for his district’s new councilman, “I will have my wife vote for me.”

“It’s so sad. I find it so depressing that no one knows, nor cares about what is going on in politics at the local level,” lamented Kimberly Schwartz, 24. “All we hear about is about Bell and what is going on there.”

Schwartz, a recent California State University Northridge (CSUN) graduate and Warner Brothers Studios employee said she will vote for the candidate that is she feels is right for her area regardless of their party affiliation.

Schwartz plans on diving into the packet of voter information and educating herself about the issues facing her community. “I am going to do serious research,” exclaims Schwartz as she fidgets with her cell phone. “I am not one of those people that will just automatically believe anything that these politicians say, I will research these measures on the web to get the big picture.”

With California State University Northridge in the district, finding the funds to improve the public transportation system should be a priority for council members said California State University Northridge psychology major, Dylan Marks, 24. Many students don’t have cars when they come to school here but end up being forced to buy them because there are no buses in the area. Marks added, “I will probably not vote in the election next month, but whoever is elected I hope they work on a better transportation system and bring businesses to the area to give the students at CSUN something to do while in school. There is nothing to do around here.”

Within the random sampling of residents in district 12, only a few had opinions or knowledge of the issues facing their community and none knew of the candidates running for office. This disconnection between residents and local government shows that most residents ignore local issues and only focus on state and national issues. How local government chooses to close this gap and engage their community remains to be decided.

This story is part of our March 8 election preview series Irked and Inspired: Los Angeles Residents Speak On The Issues. 

Reach Jennifer Whalen here



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