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