Los Angeles City Charter reform launched as an antidote to San Fernando Valley secession has suddenly touched off a political range war of its own, one that pits some of L.A.'s top corporate leaders against Valley activists.

The business leaders, unhappy with the recommendations of the city's two charter reform commissions, fired the first volley by bankrolling a campaign to build support for an expanded City Council.

Valley business leaders and homeowner activists many of whom have backed a more radical plan to create elected neighborhood councils to decentralize power fired back last week by agreeing to form an alliance to fight the downtown business interests.

"We're not going to put up with benevolent dictators," said Gordon Murley, president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Homeowners, which formed the coalition with the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley and the Westside Civic Foundation. "They're trying to be a monopoly. They want to be the company store."

What's all the fighting about? Next spring, Los Angeles voters are expected to cast ballots on a package of measures that could radically change city government by modifying the city's 1920s-vintage City Charter.

A charter commission appointed by the City Council has proposed modest reforms, including establishing new citizen advisory panels. An elected charter commission has suggested the more radical step of creating elected neighborhood councils which would take power from the existing City Council.

"It's about power, and it's about turf," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst for Claremont Graduate University. "The average Angeleno is not engaged in this debate. But those who are know they better get involved in shaping the city or they're going to get left out."

The prospect of dismantling City Hall has not set well with many of the city's most prominent corporate leaders.

"You could end up with 75 or 100 elected neighborhood council members and have almost anarchy in terms of running the city," said Eli Broad, chairman and chief executive of SunAmerica Inc.

A coalition of business groups including the Los Angeles Business Advisors, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Association decided to pursue its own charter-reform agenda, hiring Harvey Englander of the Kamber Group Inc. to build political support for yet another alternative: expanding the 15-member City Council to 35 members.

Backers say the plan will increase representation without blowing apart the system.

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