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
Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter
So what happens now? The Los Angeles City Council’s firm majority stood firm to the last against the passage of the new city charter. Now the members of that same majority get to be the ones who implement it. What a great idea.
But nothing here is quite that simple — except, perhaps, the voting majority’s desire to see its city run better. Which resulted last week in the overwhelming passage of a large and complex new blueprint for city government. And in the sore-loser "the mayor’s money won" stances of most of the termed-out council hacks who had opposed it.
The charter’s victory was a double act of electoral faith: First, the voters believed the new document would improve a city government long gone in bureaucratic decay. Then, implicitly, they believed the current city government would promptly install the new system.
It already looks as if the voters were probably more right in the first instance than in the second. The big question remains whether that council majority wants to see the new charter put into action. Last week, council President John Ferraro announced he would form a special City Council committee to create the necessary ordinances. It was a feel-good announcement, all right. But I’d have a lot more confidence in Ferraro’s sincerity if he hadn’t — to the tune of $110,000 — become the anti-charter campaign’s biggest single backer.
Meanwhile, the pro-charter council minority has just been augmented by the election of two new council members: Nick Pacheco from the 14th District and Alex Padilla from the 7th. Their presence brings to seven (out of 15) the number of council members in favor of the new document: The others are Joel Wachs, Mike Feuer, Cindy Miscikowski, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Laura Chick.
But that’s still a minority. The majority still rules. Not that the council couldn’t go through the motions of charter renewal without making a real change: There’s a lot of easy stuff to be done, what with exiling tons of the present charter’s legal boilerplate into flexible city ordinances. You could actually do most of this automatically with a law office’s well-programmed PC.
But you have to ask yourself, what interest do the members of the council’s ruling octet have in going beyond that to make the spirit of the new charter come to life within the next year?
Probably none. Their single main argument against the new charter was that it would transfer power from the council to the mayor. Why then should they waste their remaining years in office by proving or disproving their theory?
After all, it took the council more than two years just to get around to implementing the city ethics ordinances of 1990 — and these were "plug and play" laws, rigorously codified before they even went to the voters. It would be sheerest fantasy to imagine that an entire new charter, with all its vagueness and last-minute consensual language, could be put into effect in less time — even if the lawmakers wanted this to happen. The most we can expect from them is a running start.
But meanwhile, old laws are good laws. I’d guess that, without major efforts, we won’t see this charter in full effect until we have a new mayor and a new council majority, two years from today. Even then, it might take a court order to blast away the long-constipated legislative peristalsis. For years to come, the city may well stay stuck with most of its old charter.
But it’s interesting to see who’s out there making the contrary assumption. Mayor Dick Riordan, in his post-election victory message, spoke of the new charter as having instantly banished lobbyists from City Council offices. As Appointed Charter Commission chair George Kieffer explained to KNX over the weekend, however, barely a single charter provision would affect council lobbying. (If it had tried to stop lobbying, the charter might never have passed, so great would have been the opposition of the almighty City Hall lobbyists.)
Meanwhile, we can only hope that some of the charter opponents on the council have smelled the coffee. Otherwise, there’s a rocky road ahead for them and us.
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, for instance, promised that if the charter passed, as it did with 60.5 percent of her own constituents’ approval, she’d refer those constituents who sought her office’s help to the Mayor’s Office.
I hope that was a rhetorical statement, but you never really know. I’d suggest that if any constituent does get that runaround, he or she should consider instigating a Galanter recall petition. This might nudge the councilwoman and perhaps some of her anti-charter colleagues back to the original democratic idea: Elected officials should listen when the people speak — not the other way around.
The sun did shine bright on Dick Riordan last week, and how. The mayor claimed total victory at his SRO press conference Wednesday and made his usual happy promises about how great a place this city would be henceforth. His success was instantly sanctified by the Times and every other media outlet in town, thus becoming a matter of record.
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