There are nearly one and a half million of them, spread out over more than two hundred square miles. Their lives are, I suspect, not too different from the lives of other suburban Americans, but to hear some people talk, you might think they're planning the Next Civil War. They are the residents of the San Fernando Valley, and by all accounts, a majority of them want to get the hell out of Los Angeles. No, they don't want to move out of the Valley; they just want out from under L.A., and to have a city they can call their own.
To some, this may seem surprising. For years, the Los Angeles metropolitan area has been derided as nineteen or sixty or seventy-two or a hundred suburbs in search of a city. The number isn't important, but the sprawl that is L.A. is mind-boggling just the same. And so is the traffic; when I drove to Los Angeles in the spring of 1988, I had the radio tuned to KNX to pick up the news, and the traffic reports were coming in fast and furious, and somewhere on the 15 it dawned on me that it was ten o'clock at night, and why in the name of all that's holy are there still traffic reports on the radio at this hour? By the time I reached Orange County, I knew why, but when the biggest city you've seen in a dozen years is Oklahoma City, Los Angeles is daunting.
The weird aspect of this, of course, is that in terms of sheer land area, Oklahoma City is actually larger than Los Angeles: 604 square miles versus 466. Of course, the comparisons stop there: L.A. has seven times the population (3.5 million versus a bit over 500,000), and there are all those, um, suburbs. Oklahoma City has suburbs, too, but in the 1950s and 1960s, the city decided to expand around them, annexing anything that was reasonably contiguous and hadn't already been included in a suburb. The suburbs struck back, and eventually it became possible to drive all the way around Central Oklahoma and have no idea where the hell one is at any given moment. My transition to Los Angeles life, therefore, was less difficult than it could have been. (Shaky finances called my California experiment to a halt being broke sucks, but being broke in L.A. sucks worse and eventually I wound up back in Soonerland, but that's a tale for another time.)
The discontent that exists in the San Fernando Valley exists in remote reaches of Oklahoma City too, for much the same reason: citizens feel disconnected from downtown and want more control over their property and their lives. Residents of the largely-rural southeastern corner of the city, in fact, have already made noises about leaving Oklahoma City behind; there are indications that suburban Midwest City, adjacent to the north, might be willing to take them in, but the desire isn't so much to join Midwest City as it is to get out from under OKC. If it ever gets on the ballot, I bet it passes.
And I'm willing to bet that the San Fernando Valley gets its wish and gets to be a city unto itself next year. Voters in the rest of Los Angeles must also approve the deannexation, but support for the measure seems to be growing there as well. Some things, of course, won't change: traffic will still be horrendous, air quality will likely remain much the same, and the Los Angeles Times will claim that it's the end of the world as they know it. As for myself, persuaded as I am that bigger doesn't always mean better, I don't really see a downside here, unless Valley residents come up with a really dumb name for the new municipality, and even then well, have you seen anyone wanting to deannex from Boring, Oregon lately?
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Copyright © 2002 by Charles G. Hill