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Hd Charting Reform

Skeptics have every right to question just how far L.A.’s charter reform effort eventually will go, and yet the early indications are encouraging. Both commissions the panel appointed by the City Council and the one voters elected in 1997 show an impressive resolve to get past any procedural missteps and intelligently discuss the various options in remaking the charter.

Perhaps even more encouraging is the interest being generated in many parts of the city about overhauling the 70-year-old document. Hundreds of people have turned out at several of the public forums held in recent months. By L.A. standards, those are pretty impressive numbers.

To be sure, it’s not hard to form an early consensus on what’s wrong with the charter. Simply put, it’s too cumbersome and gives city officials especially the mayor too little flexibility in resolving policy matters. Its layer-upon-layer of bureaucratic dictums many of them added over the years in a capricious, ad-hoc fashion are a study in slow-motion governance.

Eliminating much of that administrative detail, as the elected panel has proposed, is obviously one step toward more efficient government. City charters should lay out broad outlines and not be focused on densely compiled rules and regulations.

The fact that both commissions agreed to work together through a joint conference committee is another step in the right direction. The logical approach, of course, would have been to select one elected commission, but given the council’s resistance to logic, it’s good to see that members of the two panels are at least looking for common ground.

The devil, of course, is in crafting a new document that not only is different, but also is substantively better. A key test will be in figuring out how to give L.A.’s various communities a bigger say in their specific interests.

In theory, the establishment of so-called neighborhood councils makes all the sense in the world because it moves local decision-making away from the bureaucratized world of City Hall. Why depend on downtown paper pushers to resolve an intensely local zoning conflict?

But what happens when the interests of the city as a whole and the individual neighborhood are at odds? One obvious example is the proposed expansion of Los Angeles International Airport a critical objective for Los Angeles, but one that will be roundly opposed among those residents and businesses abutting LAX. In such a conflict, which side prevails? And if the interests of the neighborhood are usurped in favor of what’s perceived as the common good, what good is a neighborhood council?

A sensible approach, we believe, is severely limiting the authority of the neighborhood councils focusing squarely on locally distinct matters that have little or no ramifications beyond their designated boundaries. The councils would have control over specific zoning conflicts and capital improvement programs. There are ways of creating litmus tests for this authority (including economic means), and in the end such empowerment could help quell the secessionist movements cropping up all over the city.

In the meantime, the discourse that’s unfolding over these and other issues related to the charter represents a refreshing change in L.A. politics. At last, real people are discussing fundamental issues.

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