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They Corrupted Reform, Beat Secession, Rejected Fair Elections — Maybe Boroughs Could Save L.A.

The one idea that keeps coming back through all the efforts to solve the fundamental political disconnect preventing L.A. from realizing its greatness is Boroughs — the diffusion of power from City Hall to the communities in a way that protects the rights of all, enhances the enormous diversity of the city and pushes us progressively forward into the 21st century.

Boroughs just might be an idea whose time has come.

A grassroots movement among Neighborhood Council activists has put together a motion for City Council consideration to explore the possibility of turning the city into a network of larger Boroughs each with its own government on local issues, each with a delegate to the citywide government. It would be a part-time government that would let ordinary citizens compete fairly without big money from special interests dominating elections and corrupting public policy.

The activists have done their research on how proposals for a Borough system of government came up as part of Charter reform and again during the San Fernando Valley secession era and again since, generating support from prominent political figures on the left, right and center: Wendy Greuel, Bob Hertzberg, David Fleming, Harold Meyerson, Raphael Sonenshein, Shirley Svorny, Janice Hahn and Tom LaBonge to name a few, .

Contrary to what many believe, I always saw Valley secession as a club to force City Hall to accept reforms. Needing to win a majority in the Valley and citywide, secession never stood a chance but repealing the law barring secession and forcing a public debate on the state of the city did create the impetus for Charter reform.

The City Council, in its parochial attack on City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, has opened the door to a discussion of what’s wrong with the current City Charter. 

Neighborhood Council activists have seized on that opening to broaden the discussion. Here’s some of the published material they dug up to get you up to speed on the Borough form of government: (KevinStarr.pdf)(hertzbergplan.pdf)(HaroldMeyerson.pdf)(Oakerson-Svorny.pdf)(Sonenshein.pdf)(DailyNews.pdf)(LATimes.pdf).

Here’s the proposed motion and the discussion under consideration by Neighborhood Councils throughout the city:

Motion: 

To
formally ask the City Attorney and Chief Legislative Analyst to study the steps
necessary to replace the current City Council system with a Borough
system in Los Angeles.

Discussion:

We
have all seen the pitfalls of the City Council approach to running this
city.  Decisions about local issues are made by Cuncil members who are
far away, have no connection to the voters and needs of the local area,
and often make their decisions based on politics rather than policy.

Recently
the Council asked that the CLA study separating the charter-mandated
duties of the elected city attorney. They asked for the CLA to study
allowing the City Attorney to continue to prosecute misdemeanors while allowing a  Council-appointed person to provide all other duties, including
land-use opinions and other legislative opinions.

The
council argues they needed this to streamline the legislative process. Perhaps the best way to streamline the legislative process is to
restructure the legislative branch of the city instead of eliminating an
independent city attorney.

Given
the clear mandate of the Charter with regard to the duties of the city
attorney, a Charter Amendment will almost certainly be required to
accomplish the council’s effort to consolidate even more power.

There is an entirely different Charter amendment that we wish to be studied.                                                                                        

As
the city was facing a viable secession threat in 2002, several people
including Wendy Greuel, Tom LaBonge, Janice Hahn, Bob Hertzberg and
David Fleming advocated that the City Council be replaced with a borough
system.

I’m hopeful that it will lead to a system that creates local control and brings government closer to the people,” Hertzberg said.

Under
the borough system, the current City Council would be eliminated. In
its place, a borough system would divide each existing council district
into 5 pieces representing roughly 50,000 to 60,000 people (roughly the
size of a typical NC).  Each borough would vote on its own local issues —  including land use issues.  Citywide issues would be decided by a vote
of all of the borough presidents.

A
borough member position would be part-time, would not come with a
pension or a massive salary. In addition, because of the small size of
each borough, local candidates would be able to get their message out
even in the face of special interest spending.

This would truly bring government closer to the people and further from special interests.

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21 Responses to They Corrupted Reform, Beat Secession, Rejected Fair Elections — Maybe Boroughs Could Save L.A.

  1. Fed Up! says:

    Great idea, Ron. I am calling my councilman today and imploring him to vote for this study.
    I am also getting 10 of my friends to do the same.
    Everyone needs to do that ASAP. Enough already!
    We should also explore ways to reduce the bloated salaries and budgets of each councilman.
    In these tough economic times, when fire services and other vital city services are being cut, we need to reduce the expenditures of these city councilmen & Jan Perry.
    $90,000 a year for these public servents is more than generous.
    Just as Jerry Brown made some tough decisions and brought the State budget under control, and the Federal Government is grappling with the Federal budget, we the citizens of this city need to let our voices be heard.

  2. Anonymous says:

    So instead of 15 CD’s, we’ll have 75 boroughs because what this city really needs is more bloat. Meanwhile the mayor, who already gained too much power through Riordan’s charter revisions, gets even more when the legislature is fragmented 5-fold. What a dumb idea
    Also it’s official, Ron Kaye is on Trutanich’s PR payroll.

  3. Anonymous says:

    to:5:25 PM
    What is YOUR POSITIVE suggestion ?
    80 separate little cities?

  4. Anonymous says:

    “Also it’s official, Ron Kaye is on Trutanich’s PR payroll”. Prove it.

  5. Ms.Anonymous says:

    What? Did I read this right?
    “Recently the Council asked that the CLA study separating the charter-mandated duties of the elected city attorney. They asked for the CLA to study allowing the City Attorney to continue to prosecute misdemeanors while allowing a Council-appointed person to provide all other duties, including land-use opinions and other legislative opinions.”
    A council-appointed person to provide all other duties including land-use…???
    Isn’t that part of the problem? The coucil is in charge of land-use and everything the CRA does?

  6. Think About It says:

    The Mayor would NOT have more power. He would have to convince 8 *LOCAL* BUROUGHS with 5 part-time LOCAL people serving to support an initiative instead of being able to yank the chains of the ultra-political council. This means that local interests would have to be respected.
    Really, the council is not a representative body. They vote unanimously like 99+ percent of the time.
    How can this be if things are not orchestrated – Brown act be damned.
    NO ONE agrees 99%+ of the time on anything.
    There is no debate in this city. The special interests pull the strings.
    FYI: It will be interesting to see the cost differences over time of five part-time burough members making maybe $30k each v. a “full time” council member making $178k + benefits + pension forever. Do the math.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Think About It
    Don’t forget the City Council staff and office budget. And look at the Mayor’s “Deputy’s”

  8. Zuckerkhan says:

    Hi Ron,
    Interesting idea and I usually disagree with you, yet we all need to explore this idea more. Could it work, yes. Could it fail, yes. Lets find a solution.
    I am from NY which this system is in place and remember when the troubles in the 80′s were going on and really fragmented the city. Not a good time. Really, mid-town won, everything else loss–
    However, now in the 2000′s, other Boroughs thrive (yet not all).
    So this plan could or could not be good for “local people”, yet I believe it would be good to dive into. Lets see where this takes us–

  9. Dan says:

    Some good ideas here, and I’m always in favor of more participatory democracy. But even in a Borough system, without real public campaign financing you leave the more-localized system highly susceptible to the same ills of developer/lobbyist money corrupting the system. It seems important to fix that actual problem rather than reshuffle the organizational boxes and hope for real change.
    As far as aligning Area Planning Commissions more closely with democratic governing bodies, that’s a long overdue idea. I would also recommend Single-Transferable-Vote electoral reform in the districts.

  10. Anonymous says:

    LA is doomed. We have Neighborhood Councils populated by half dead morons. All public hearings are flooded by Durazo’s labor & IBEW members. Anyone elected starts enjoying the perks of power & money & becomes as corrupt as the one replaced. If a society’s pool does not contain enough upright, honest and ethical people, it does not matter what system of government is installed. The handful of good people in this city will never participate in politics. Instead of city-wide crooks, we’ll get the local ones. Results will be the same. A city on its downward spiral.

  11. Bob Hertzberg proposed a borough system back when secession was being pushed. It did not get any traction. Perhaps Bob would like to step up and reintroduce the concept.
    Can it work? It depends on how much authority is delegated to the boroughs. The concept might be more effective if we diminished the power of the mayor to appoint GMs and commission members and allowed the borough presidents to have influence. That’s where the action is.
    Regarding 911′s comments, as a member of the NC system since 2005, I can say that it will never have the sway so many of us would like to see if it stays on its present course. Mr. Krekorian failed us with his tepid package of “reforms” which appear to be designed to prop up the trainwreck known as DONE. DONE almost singlehandedly destroyed the NC system. Only the tireless efforts of individual stakeholders, coalitions and board members prevented the full demise. So much energy has gone into protecting the status of DONE rather than stengthening the NCs themselves.
    NCs are likely to do better under a borough system where they have more direct contact with the administration of the city. DONE should be eliminated and replaced by oversight boards comprised of NC members selected by the NCs.
    Paul Hatfield, NC Valley Village

  12. Anonymous says:

    Paul, you are one of the few honest people I had in mind when I wrote my dismal prognosis. Hope you’ll join politics. We can’t allow an ethically and mentally challenged motorcycle cop become Controller.

  13. Think about it says:

    The idea is to replace the council with boroughs. NCs would also be replaced as their stated (yet unachieved) purpose of bring government closer to the people would be realized.
    Dan: Campaign finance would be far less of an issue in a small area. An overwhelming amount of money would likely not overcome the ability to make direct contact with the voters – which is possible in a 50-60k person borough. As for APCs… Have the boroughs serve that purpose as well.
    Paul: The council has to approve GM hires. This duty would be transferred to the 15 boroughs, so there would be far more incentive for candidates to understand local issues if they want to get hired.
    All other authority currently granted to the council would be transferred to the 15 boroughs for city-wide issues. Local issues would be decided locally.
    There is one thing that is certain: The city council system has failed and needs to be replaced.

  14. Anonymous says:

    “There is one thing that is certain: The city council system has failed and needs to be replaced.”
    The discussion you are having makes so much sense.
    Our county is about 450 square miles, and LA
    is a city of 4 million people. I have nothing in common with Sylmar in the SFV,about 14 miles,
    so just imagine how much I have in common with Long Beach, Watts, etc.. We are much too big.
    This week politically has many problems here in
    LA, add Congress and our nartional financial
    dillemma is awesome.
    God bless America. God be with us all. Amen.

  15. Jim O'Sullivan says:

    Having lived for many years in New York City I know that Borough’s work but I also know that most New Yorkers will also tell you that not all borough’s are created equal. If that is the only choice open to us I would take it in a Los Angeles minute but after reading the Oakerson-Svorny article provided with this piece I believe we also need to take a long hard look at Detachment of Los Angeles into 4 to 6 separate Cities. What those Cities will look like, how the boundaries will be drawn and a whole host of other issues will need to be painstakingly worked through but I believe their already exists a loose federation of groups throughout the City working together on issues of mutual concern that could come together to make Detachment work.
    I am sure that many believe that may be a bridge to far but the Mayor and Council are incapable of addressing the financial Armageddon heading our way and no amount of tweaking the Charter will solve the issues before us today. A Borough system with strong local controls would go a long way to solving many of our problems but they might not get us all the way to self determination. For that we may need to consider Detachment and Reorganization as multiple smaller Cities.

  16. Jim O'Sullivan says:

    Having lived for many years in New York City I know that Borough’s work but I also know that most New Yorkers will also tell you that not all borough’s are created equal. If that is the only choice open to us I would take it in a Los Angeles minute but after reading the Oakerson-Svorny article provided with this piece I believe we also need to take a long hard look at Detachment of Los Angeles into 4 to 6 separate Cities. What those Cities will look like, how the boundaries will be drawn and a whole host of other issues will need to be painstakingly worked through but I believe their already exists a loose federation of groups throughout the City working together on issues of mutual concern that could come together to make Detachment work.
    I am sure that many believe that may be a bridge to far but the Mayor and Council are incapable of addressing the financial Armageddon heading our way and no amount of tweaking the Charter will solve the issues before us today. A Borough system with strong local controls would go a long way to solving many of our problems but they might not get us all the way to self determination. For that we may need to consider Detachment and Reorganization as multiple smaller Cities.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Four to six cities may not do it. We may need to break it into at least 10 with an approximate population of 400,000 each. At least, we all agree that the current system isn’t working. If we can redraw the state congressional districts, this is feasible too.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Think About It… first you said 8 boroughs, now you say there are only 15. Ron’s plan calls for 75 boroughs, not 15 or 8: 5 for each council district. Which means 75 people arguing with each other trying to push their own agendas.
    And the current Charter gives the power to appoint and fire Department GM’s to the mayor, which is the key problem in this city. That type of leverage makes every Department GM the mayor’s puppet. There’s no check and balance because any GM who doesn’t push the mayor’s agenda gets fired. This is the cause of everything from the DWP having a new GM every year to Daryl Gates being the last police chief that the cops actually liked.
    This borough idea solves none of this. It’s a geographical experiment that sounds good because it’s different but all it will do is make the legislative branch of local government take 10 times as long to get something done.
    You want to fix local government, focus on reforming the Charter to reinstitute checks and balances so a person like Tony V can’t train wreck the city in his bid to become governor.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Good dialogue. All I know is something needs to give because we have been doomed having such incompetent, classless, unethical morons on city council and a Failure of a Mayor and Controller. When you have a council member in the midst of our City debating issues like AEG stadium that will affect our budget and Tom LaBoggle puts forth a motion TODAY on the agenda for a “Smurf’s Week” you gotta ask yourself, “What the Hell Is he Thinking.” Can they really all be as lame ass as they behave”? YES!!!

  20. Anonymous says:

    “The city of Bell filed a malpractice lawsuit against its former city attorney and his two law firms Thursday, alleging that they were given faulty legal advice.
    The suit contends that attorney Edward Lee provided legal advice that allowed Bell officials — including former city Administrator Robert Rizzo and City Council members — to receive extraordinary salaries and benefits. The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, also alleges that Lee gave the city poor advice regarding a variety of subjects, including business license fees and loans that Rizzo gave to employees.
    The lawsuit singles out Lee’s most recent firm, Best Best & Krieger, for allegedly failing to properly advise Bell on a $35-million bond offering in 2007.
    “The city attorney was responsible for preventing the abuses of power by the prior city government that left the city in its current difficult financial situation,” Bell’s attorney, William Stoner, said in a news release. “The lawsuit seeks to place responsibility for not protecting against those abuses of power where it belongs and obtain just compensation from those responsible.”
    JAN PERRY DOES’NT CARE. HER ASS WILL NEVER BE INDICTED. SHE WOULD RATHER THROW OUR CITY ATTORNEY UNDER THE BUS.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I heard Jan Perry improperly tried to get her divorce file sealed by the LA Superior Court. Wonder what she is trying to hide from her Mayoral opponents?

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