Dan Walters: Los Angeles-San Francisco rivalry plays out in Capitol

01/17/2014 12:00 AM

01/17/2014 6:31 AM

When the Los Angeles Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants in the latter’s ballpark, fans chant “Beat L.A., Beat L.A.”

It’s more than baseball. It symbolizes the rivalry between California’s two major metropolitan areas, in one form or another, for virtually its entire history.

It’s economic, it’s cultural and, of course, it’s political. Sometimes it’s starkly apparent, such as the decades-long struggle over moving water from the north to the south, or a once-fierce competition over allocation of highway funds. Often, it’s subtle. But it’s always there.

For instance, during the 1980s, as Southern California’s aerospace and entertainment industries boomed, it threatened the Bay Area’s long-standing dominance of the state’s banking industry.

But as aerospace and entertainment faded in the 1990s and as the high-tech industry exploded in the Bay Area, the state’s economic epicenter shifted northward again.

Over time, the two regions’ once-deep cultural and political differences faded, and during the last couple of decades, California’s north-south split gave way to an east-west divide, especially in politics, roughly along the San Andreas Fault.

However, while the politics of the Bay Area and Los Angeles today are equally blue – the latter having moved left in the 1990s as aerospace workers fled and waves of immigrants arrived – there are still some political tensions that are more regional than ideological, such as the perennial water conflict. Because of that, over the last few decades, an informal understanding has emerged that neither region would dominate both legislative houses.

During the 1980s, as San Franciscan Willie Brown reigned as speaker over the Assembly, Angeleno David Roberti ran the Senate. But when Brown departed (to become mayor of San Francisco) Los Angeles soon claimed the speakership while Bay Area politicians took over the Senate.

That arrangement continues today, with John A. Pérez as Assembly speaker and Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramentan transplanted from the Bay Area (and fanatic Giants fan), as president pro tem of the Senate.

Both, however, are stepping down this year due to term limits and an Angeleno, Kevin de León, became locked in this week as the next Senate leader. If the informal rule holds, therefore, the Assembly speakership would go to someone from the Bay Area. But who, if anyone, is uncertain.

The Bay Area Council, an influential business group, is encouraging San Mateo Assemblyman Richard Gordon to make a run, raising alarms that Los Angeles could dominate the Capitol.

Whether Gordon or someone else emerges, it’s difficult to envision that the Bay Area, now so economically dominant, would allow Los Angeles to gain dominance in the Capitol – especially with that old bugaboo, water, back on the agenda.

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