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Friday, Sep 29, 2023



Hd — Wake Up, L.A.

The world of L.A. city government is a small one indeed. So small, in fact, that three out of four likely voters in a Los Angeles Times poll published last week said they had not heard or read about Proposition 8, the charter reform measure.

Frankly, we’re not surprised. Despite being the center of a months-long public policy debate, which voters will act on this week, charter reform was never destined to be a hot topic in L.A. It doesn’t involve movie stars, police shoot-outs or weird cults. It has barely received any notice on the 11 o’clock news.

Its sole purpose is to make government work more fairly and efficiently, which, in turn, should make the city a better place to be.

That sounds nice in concept, but it’s a process unlikely to be realized until at least the turn of the century a time frame too far off for many of us to take seriously. It also is being promoted and funded by politicians and friends of politicians hardly an inviting prospect.

Add to that is the internal bickering over how the reform effort should be implemented. A group being led by Mayor Richard Riordan has proposed the creation of an elected citizens’ panel, with the authority to go directly to the voters on charter reform recommendations. Those panel members will be elected this week in addition to voting yes or no on whether a commission should be created in the first place.

The City Council, meanwhile, has created a 21-member appointed panel to overhaul the 72-year-old charter, but the Council maintains veto power on any recommendations. Some Council members consider the Riordan-led approach an effort to provide more power to the mayor’s office.

Given the conflict within City Hall itself, it’s little wonder that so many voters have tuned out.

Establishing the need for charter reform through passage of Proposition 8 is a no-brainer. City government has been paralyzed by a cumbersome, out-of-date charter over 700 pages long that dilutes power to the point where no one seems to be in charge. It also has created an unwieldy structure in which the city budget has ballooned from $1 billion to $4 billion over the past 20 years and where local bureaucrats hold the real power.

The trick is in doing something about it but more to the point, finding commonality in the approach. We support the citizens’ panel approach as the most logical first step in the process and salute the efforts of Mayor Riordan towards that end. (The power-grabbing argument by the Council is absurd, given that Riordan will be out of office long before the updated charter is ever completed.)

Giving the Council veto power on charter reform is a recipe for disaster; it’s like giving college students the prerogative of changing the final grades they receive. Only a body caught up in their own power would offer such an alternative.

The biggest challenge, though, is generating a broad-based interest in the process. On this front, we are not encouraged (and Tuesday’s expected low voter turnout doesn’t raise our hopes). It goes without saying that L.A. is not an especially civic-minded town, and getting the attention of the community at large on something as complex as a city charter will not be easy. Frankly, it might be impossible.

But the only thing worse than not changing the charter is changing it with minimal representation. That’s a real recipe for disaster.

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