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Ron Kaye: The civic advantage of coalescence

April 28, 2012

Do you ever wonder why the subway ends in North Hollywood instead of turning east to Burbank and Glendale? Or why the Gold Line turns right when it gets to Pasadena? Or why the Westside is getting light rail and a subway extension while you get nothing?

Politically speaking, size matters, so smaller cities don't — unless they act like the 31 cities in the San Gabriel Valley. In 1994 they formed the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments to end their self-destructive squabbling and allow their voices to be heard despite the deafening roar of the 800-pound gorilla to the west, the city of Los Angeles.

It took a long time to get the cities and their three county supervisors to begin to collaborate for the good of the region, but working together has gotten results.

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“We spent a lot of time building consensus and developing a common vision,” said Nick Conway, executive director of the SGVCOG for the last 16 years.

“Now we have two light rails, the most progress in light rail of anywhere in the county, freeway improvements, open space and conservancy. Had it not been for the COG, we could not have been able to band together and get those projects and become the overarching organization that respects local control, encourages cooperation and advocates for the common good.”

So who speaks for you? Who is advocating for your fair share of the billions of mass-transit dollars you are contributing to?

Formed last year, the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments could become the vehicle for improving the quality of life for the two million people who live in the L.A. portion of the valley and in the cities of San Fernando, Burbank and Glendale and Santa Clarita.

Despite the fact that most of Southern California has used these quasi-government COGs to get their interests served, the curse of the valley is most of it is in the 800-pound-gorilla city whose political leaders have long used it as a cash cow and who have rarely acted on its behalf.

Just to get the COG off the ground, the four smaller cities had to agree to pay $10,000 each in annual dues, give seven L.A. City Council members voting rights while only collecting $10,000 from L.A. and promise that no action can be taken without a unanimous vote. County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky also each get a vote but only pay dues of $30,000 in total, even though they each supervisor pays that amount in other COGs.

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