If you want to get an idea of how tough it's going to be to pass charter reform in L.A., just listen to George Kieffer.

"Every night my wife comes home and says, 'You haven't yet told me why you care about this charter,' " he said. "It's hard to explain."

If Kieffer, who chairs one of the city's two charter reform commissions, has difficulty explaining charter reform to his wife, then convincing hundreds of thousands of Angelenos to go to the polls next June and check off the "Yes" box is sure to be an uphill battle.

Making matters worse, it's now becoming likely that there will be two competing charter reform measures on the ballot, each containing hundreds of pages and making it the largest ballot in city history.

Such a turn of events would be a prescription for voter confusion, and apathy.

"With the prospect of multiple proponents and opponents, my fear is that the public will be so overwhelmed and confused by detail that they won't know which proposal to support," said political consultant Richard Lichtenstein. "Emotions that will be generated by the competing charter measures could result in voters rejecting all the reforms."

Xandra Kayden, president of the L.A. League of Women Voters and UCLA senior public policy fellow, said the prospects for charter reform began fading when two separate commissions were created.

"What has been missing from the outset is an answer to the question, 'What is the reason for charter reform?' Most people don't understand what city functions are and how they are affected by them," she said.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and civic leaders launched the charter reform effort three years ago, their hope was to come up with a proposal that would simplify the government structure and make city leaders more accountable.

Last week, a proposal was indeed released by the Appointed Charter Reform Commission. The 337-page, two-volume document calls for expanding the City Council to 21 members, creating three to seven area planning boards with power over local land-use decisions, and setting up advisory neighborhood councils. It would also exempt top managers in departments from civil service and give the mayor more power to organize his or her staff.

The proposal must still be approved by the council before it can be put on the June ballot. It is expected to go to the council's Rules and Elections Committee chaired by council President John Ferraro in January.


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