By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
If the proposed charter change is enacted, moreover, we suspect that constituents will still call their council members, and that their council members will still call the city departments, and that the work will get done at about the rate it proceeds now. Constituents call state legislators and members of Congress all the time, too, despite the fact that their de jure power is purely legislative, and somehow those legislators and congressmen manage to call administrative-agency heads to get things done nonetheless.
THE NEW CHARTER'S VERY MODEST CENTRALIZATION of power in the executive is offset, however, by a modest diffusion of power into the neighborhoods. This diffusion is created by three separate measures:
First, by the creation of smaller City Council districts, should measures 3 and/or 4 on this ballot also be enacted; second, by supplementing the one current citywide Planning Commission with at least five area planning commissions, so that planning decisions can be made by a body that is closer to, and more representative of, the affected area; and third, by the creation of a system of advisory neighborhood councils.
From the outset of the charter-reform process, neighborhood councils were held out as a means of reducing the sense of civic alienation and powerlessness presumably fueling the Valley's secessionist impulses. Whether or â not that proves to be the case, the neighborhood councils that the new charter outlines in the sketchiest of ways seem to offer a genuine if modest increase in the political power of neighborhoods and, more generally, in the level of local democracy.
The new charter creates a new Department of Neighborhood Empowerment that will oversee the creation of some kind of local councils by the city's various regions -- varying in form from neighborhood to neighborhood according to the wishes of the respective neighborhoods. The only charter stipulations are that every neighborhood of the city be included within a council, and that the councils be open to all who not just live, but also work and own property, in the area. The councils' power is advisory, but in cities that have such councils, such as Portland and St. Paul, the advice each council offers its city-council member on land-use, allocation of services and other issues is generally taken.
Neighborhood councils are not a panacea for a moribund civic culture. A city devoid of political movements and activist crusades will not have throngs streaming into its neighborhood councils. Nonetheless, even in a time of very limited activism, the councils can play a useful role; and in periods like the '30s and the '60s, councils could be transformed into (to borrow a phrase from Justice Brandeis) "laboratories of democracy."
Some of the new charter's opponents say that it missed an opportunity to build genuine local control by its failure to create neighborhood councils with more than advisory powers, by its failure to create more area planning councils or a vastly larger City Council. We sympathize with some of their arguments, but to oppose the charter because it takes only two steps toward local democracy instead of 10 is to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
THE NEW CHARTER ALSO GIVES constitutional standing to the most important progressive initiative in recent city history, and makes a major change that increases the independent oversight of the Police Department. Building on a groundbreaking 1997 city law, the charter mandates that city-contract workers be paid a living wage, the amount to be specified by council ordinance. And finally, the charter advances the uncompleted work of the Christopher Commission by strengthening the independent inspector general for the LAPD, vesting that officer with full access to all departmental information independent of the chief or the Police Commission's executive director, and with the ability to initiate any investigation of police misconduct without prior authorization of the commission or anyone else.
Could a better document than the charter now before us still be drafted? Possibly, but unless the balance of political power in the city shifts radically, it's hard to see why it would be much different than the one before us now. Besides, if Measure 1 is defeated, it's unlikely any major attempt to revise the charter will be upon us soon. The last effort at rewriting the city charter occurred in 1971. If the charter is not changed in this election, the charter of 1925, with all its peculiar diffusions and contortions of power, will likely be with us for 100 years. The new charter creates a government that is modestly more accountable, efficient and democratic -- and a Police Department that is clearly moreâ accountable to independent oversight. That's good enough for us.
Charter Amendment 2 -- Yes
The proposed new charter, up for approval in Measure 1, makes some modest changes in the city-election rules, in particular creating a Redistricting Commission charged with re-drawing council districts after every decennial census, though the commission must then submit its handiwork to the council for final approval. (In the current charter, the council has sole control of the process from start to finish.) The charter makes an analogous change in the LAUSD school board's dicennial redistricting, establishing a separate commission whose proposal also goes before the council. (This is the one area where the council has some statutory authority over school-district policy.) Since the LAUSD includes areas that are not part of the city of L.A., this change has to be voted on separately from the charter.
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