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VALLEY WOULD LOSE LANDMARKS IN SECESSION : DIVERSITY, STRENGTH OF LOS ANGELES IS SPREAD ACROSS ENTIRE METROPOLIS.

Byline: RICHARD NEMEC Local View

GETTING to the end of the Harbor Freeway is a long drive from just about any part of Los Angeles. Once you exit and travel south on Gaffey Street over the gentle rolling hills of San Pedro, you could be in any of a number of small American seaports. But this is Los Angeles nevertheless.

On a recent warm Saturday evening I followed Gaffey to 22nd Street, turned left and went a couple of blocks to Pacific, made a right (or south) to 36th Street where I made another left turn and meandered around the harbor side of Point Fermin, a statuesque promontory with both utilitarian and artistic value. It, too, is part of Los Angeles. Tucked into the Cabrillo Beach area is a hidden treasure of the city's Recreation and Parks Department, the Cabrillo Marine Museum, which trains hundreds of volunteers each year from age 6 well past 60, handles a quarter of a million visitors and hosts 50,000 schoolchildren, mostly from Los Angeles Unified School District campuses spread all over our meandering city.

On summer and early spring nights when the grunion are running, the Cabrillo Aquarium staff can have several thousand people - mostly families - lined along Cabrillo's sandy beach ``hunting'' the small, silvery fish as they make their regular mating assault in the wet sand. Or during sun-baked summer days, a large group of schoolchildren may be taken to the nearby tide pools for a firsthand education on some of the creatures that live in our adjacent ocean waters.

In an opposite direction, tucked in the northwest corner of Griffith Park in the Los Feliz District sits the venerable Griffith Observatory, host to millions of star-gazers since it opened in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression. The observatory, too, is part of the city's vast Recreation and Parks Department, which offers more than softball, basketball and swimming among its array of cultural and educational treasurers.

Griffith Park and the planetarium are part of Los Angeles too, just as much as the Sepulveda Basin, Knollwood Golf Course and the expanses of Balboa Park.

This vastness and rich diversity is both a source of comfort and confusion. It prevents residents from having a close-knit center and a unifying ``turf'' to which all Angelenos can relate. But what we give up in shared values and lifestyles we gain in offering residents of the greater L.A. metropolitan area a first-class, world-recognized state of mind. Under the ``Big Orange'' or ``L.A.'' label is a horde of places that are mind-sets in their own right: Hollywood, Venice Beach, Century City, the Valley, Mulholland, LAX, San Pedro, Boyle Heights, downtown, the Miracle Mile, Silver Lake, Toluca Lake, etc., etc.

If the Valley, with its 222 square miles and 1.5 million residents, secedes from Los Angeles, the newly incorporated city will have size and economic strength, but it will lose the real strength of L.A. - diversity, both geographical and psychological. Warner Center will never be downtown or Century City. California State University, Northridge, while a fine university, will never displace the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California, two of the state's and nation's first-class learning research centers with histories far older than the Northridge campus.

Economic and political power are important, don't get me wrong, but there is no Dodger Stadium tucked into a tranquil Elysian Park within the Valley's mostly flat mythical city limits, nor is there a Los Angeles County Museum of Art or a California Science Center. The resources, the synergy, and, yes, the diversity of Los Angeles works best with the current sprawling mass that we know of as much by criss-crossing freeways as by streets and neighborhood boundaries.

The often maligned and misinterpreted parks department is a clear example of the city's cohesive strength. It operates seven camping areas and seven lakes - some outside the city boundaries, along with the more traditional 175 parks and 58 public swimming pools.

In addition to the aquarium, the city has the Los Angeles Maritime Museum and the Fort MacArthur Museum and Drum Barracks Civil War Museum - both also in San Pedro, that far-off harbor town that was long ago annexed to the city. Travel Town in Griffith Park and Banning Residence Museum in Wilmington are other Recreation and Parks Department venues.

This little recognized portion of the citywide bureaucracy looks after 15,600 acres of parkland, including Griffith Park's 4,217 acres, the nation's largest municipal park within a single city boundary. It also runs 13 municipal golf courses, including three 18-hole courses at the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area and a major sports center for everything from baseball to soccer, tennis to handball. As big and diverse and as sprawling as the Sepulveda Basin facilities are, I don't think they can match Griffith Park or the Cabrillo Aquarium.

That's the hidden Faustian bargain in the secessionist allure. Is what you gain in greater political and economic independence worth the social, cultural and educational amenities you lose? I suggest the elected leaders and policy-makers take a ride to San Pedro or Griffith Park so they can factor in the intangibles of what they would be giving up in splitting off from the city of Los Angeles.
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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 23, 1998
Words:879
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