HOWARD FINE

Staff Reporter

In case you thought the passage of charter reform ended the debate over how the city conducts its business, think again. The real battle is just getting started.

That's because the charter leaves it up to the City Council and a new Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to develop ordinances to deal with such basic issues as how many neighborhood councils and area planning commissions there will be and what powers they will have.

How these and a host of related questions are answered over the next 12 to 18 months will determine the face of city government for decades to come.

"These two areas neighborhood councils and area planning commissions are where the public is going to see city government change the most," said Theresa Patsakis, Mayor Richard Riordan's aide assigned to charter implementation.

They will also have a profound impact on how developers do business in the city.

"I'm telling my clients to get their two cents in, because this process is going to define how planning projects are heard for much of the next century," said Larry Kosmont, a Los Angeles real estate consultant.

The first issue is determining who will craft the plan for neighborhood councils. The charter specifies that within the next four months, a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment must be created with a department head and seven commissioners chosen.

Riordan will nominate the department head and the seven commissioners; the City Council must then confirm the appointments.

"The effectiveness of the commissioners and the department head will be absolutely crucial to getting neighborhood councils off the ground on the right foot," said Councilman Joel Wachs.

The new department chief and staff will have only six to nine months to come up with a plan for neighborhood councils and present it to the council, which in turn will have six months to make any changes.

The process for forming area planning commissions is more straightforward. The City Council, with input from the city Planning Department and Planning Commission, must draft an implementing ordinance within the next year.

The area planning commissions will be appointed bodies with power over land-use decisions, while neighborhood councils are advisory bodies whose members will be chosen by the community.

The next major issue is funding, which could prove challenging given that a majority of the City Council was opposed to charter reform. The funding issue will likely turn on how many neighborhood councils and area planning commissions are proposed. On this point, there is no consensus.

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