CHARTER/25″/mike1st/mark2nd By HOWARD FINE Staff Reporter If you want to get an idea of how tough it’s going to be to pass charter reform in L.A., just listen to George Kieffer. “Every night my wife comes home and says, ‘You haven’t yet told me why you care about this charter,’ ” he said. “It’s hard to explain.” If Kieffer, who chairs one of the city’s two charter reform commissions, has difficulty explaining charter reform to his wife, then convincing hundreds of thousands of Angelenos to go to the polls next June and check off the “Yes” box is sure to be an uphill battle. Making matters worse, it’s now becoming likely that there will be two competing charter reform measures on the ballot, each containing hundreds of pages and making it the largest ballot in city history. Such a turn of events would be a prescription for voter confusion, and apathy. “With the prospect of multiple proponents and opponents, my fear is that the public will be so overwhelmed and confused by detail that they won’t know which proposal to support,” said political consultant Richard Lichtenstein. “Emotions that will be generated by the competing charter measures could result in voters rejecting all the reforms.” It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and civic leaders launched the charter reform effort three years ago, their hope was to come up with a proposal that would simplify the government structure and make city leaders more accountable. Earlier this month, a proposal was indeed released by the Appointed Charter Reform Commission. The 337-page, two-volume document calls for expanding the City Council to 21 members, creating three to seven area planning boards with power over local land-use decisions, and setting up advisory neighborhood councils. It would also exempt top managers in departments from civil service and give the mayor more power to organize his or her staff. The proposal must still be approved by the council before it can be put on the June ballot. It is expected to go to the council’s Rules and Elections Committee chaired by council President John Ferraro in January. But, paradoxically, the proposal could actually reduce the prospects of charter reform. That’s because the Elected Charter Reform Commission is set to release its own draft plan early in December, and that proposal is likely to conflict with the appointed commission’s proposal in several key areas, from the size of the City Council to the division of powers between the mayor and council. (The Elected Commission’s proposal can go straight to the ballot, without petitions or City Council approval.) With the prospect of dueling initiatives ending up on the ballot, it could be tough to build a consensus. “On most local ballot issues like this, voters are usually receptive to a campaign that has a broad spectrum of leaders supporting it,” Lichtenstein said. “But here, the leadership has not come together. Instead, it has fractured. You have the mayor supporting the elected commission’s proposal, the City Council probably lining up behind the appointed commission, the business community with its own separate agenda, and the unions split. This all adds to the confusion.” Indeed, the business community has not lined up behind either plan. Instead, the major downtown business groups the Central City Association, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles Business Advisors have come out for increasing the size of the council and against any proposal that would give neighborhood councils decision-making power over land-use issues. But the Valley Industry and Commerce Association will only support charter reform if it gives neighborhood councils decision-making power over land-use issues. Neither commission has endorsed that idea. If history is any guide, charter reform has little chance of passing if the proposals by both commissions end up on the ballot. Competing ballot measures are often defeated. Appointed commission Chairman Kieffer agreed that getting consensus for a single proposal is crucial for success. Without that, he said, voters are likely to throw up their hands and either stay away from the polls or vote “no.” For several months, a joint committee of members from both commissions has been attempting to come up with a compromise plan. But most of the major disagreements remain, as pressure on each commission intensifies to stick to their own proposals. Among the major differences between the two plans: ? The elected commission gives the mayor the power to unilaterally fire department heads, while the appointed commission keeps the current system under which the City Council must approve any department-head firing. ? The elected commission would give the mayor authority to initiate litigation and reach settlements; the appointed commission would keep that authority with the City Council, where it now rests. ? The elected commission would eliminate the budgetary functions of the city administrative officer, transferring them to the mayor and controller; the appointed commission would essentially keep the city administrative officer’s functions intact. ? The appointed commission would increase the size of the City Council from the current 15 to 21 members; the elected commission’s main proposal would keep the current 15 members but would add a separate amendment to the ballot that would increase the council to 25 members. Despite all the differences, it’s too early to write off charter reform altogether. But unless a leader or group of leaders emerges who can articulate why charter reform is needed, it will be a long, uphill battle. So far, no such leader has emerged. Yet another factor threatening to kill the effort is the chance that an interest group opposed to one or both proposals might mobilize its rank and file to vote “no.” In what is expected to be a low-turnout election, such a mobilization could sink the charter reform effort. Already, homeowner’s groups and supporters of the San Fernando Valley secession movement have said they will oppose any measure that does not create neighborhood councils with the power to decide land-use issues.