Leon Worden

Drum still beats for home rule

Leon Worden · March 26, 1997

I forget now if it was Dan Hon or Jack Boyer or my mom who stuck a big sign in my hand and planted me in the dirt in front of the old Mustang Theater on Soledad Canyon Road to wave at passing motorists and remind them to vote for county formation. It was November of 1976, I was a month away from my 14th birthday, and this was my formal introduction to the strange and wonderfully horrid world of local politics.

I recently mentioned that in the early 1980s the Santa Clarita Valley spoke with one voice on issues like roads, crime and jobs. It wasn't always that way. Turn back the clock an additional 10 years, and our cross-town rivalry was just that: Newhall vs. Saugus, Canyon Country vs. both, and everybody vs. the new, upstart community of Valencia.

Canyon County formation changed all that. As flamboyant as our cross-town rivalries sometimes got, we were united in our resentment of the far-off seat of Los Angeles County government. We were never more than a distant cousin to Los Angeles, and even in the mid-1980s, before we finally became a city, the county was still taking about $4 million more in our taxes each year than it was giving back. A common enemy made us as one.

Local governance has been on the minds of Santa Claritans all my life, and the new bill from Assemblyman George Runner (R-Lancaster) to examine the way services are delivered in Los Angeles County and possibly split the behemoth county into two or more smaller counties unlocks a bunch of repressed childhood memories.

It was the summer of 1974 when my mom chaired a meeting at the new Valencia Hills Clubhouse to rekindle the fires of city formation. There had been several tries at cityhood over the years, the most recent (I think) coming in 1962. They were all set to fan the flames again when somebody piped up at the end of the meeting. City formation was OK, she said, but what you really need to do is form your own county.

The instigator was Ruth Newhall, then owner-editor of The Signal. Hers was the kernel of the idea to mount an aggressive war on Los Angeles which, although unsuccessful, compelled a future county supervisor to pay attention to us and primed the juices for the formation of the City of Santa Clarita a decade later.

We were a different community back then. Only 60,000 people would have lived in Canyon County, an area bounded on the north by Gorman, on the east by Agua Dulce and on the south by Newhall. We won the election within the boundaries of our new county but lost in the rest of Los Angeles when the firemen's PAC raised $250,000 to defeat us, under the mistaken belief that secession would cost them their jobs. (For those with long memories, the idea of supplanting some paid firefighters with volunteers did not come from county formation leaders, but from others.)

We elected five county supervisors. Most are now dead or disappeared, but one -- Carl Boyer, no relation to Jack -- continues to represent us in real life, as do Canyon County campaigners Jan Heidt and Jo Anne Darcy.

Today we get stuck with the occasional rogue politician, but overall our city representatives have been people with a long history of activism and a sense of community "oneness" borne from the teamwork it took to bring the diverse areas of the Santa Clarita Valley together in the fight for independence from downtown Los Angeles.

At the same time, we have seen term limits take their toll on the entrenched Sacramento politicians of the 1970s and '80s who, after a second Canyon County formation attempt failed in 1978, made it even tougher for a community to break away. I've never been too big on term limits, but I must admit that things are happening in Sacramento today that would have been unthinkable even a half-dozen years ago, such as the strong drive to unleash the San Fernando Valley from the City of Los Angeles.

George Runner is among that new breed of legislator from an area which, although politically and geographically different from the Santa Clarita Valley, has known the same alienation from a distant county government that inspired so many of our own community leaders. For the first time in a long time, the political climate may be right to rethink the way our county government works.

Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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