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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023


DAVID W. FLEMING Devolution has become the new paradigm in American governance. Giant, centralized bureaucracies are undergoing transformations. Federal welfare reform has devolved to the states. In turn, the states are handing decision-making powers to counties and cities. Closer-to-home empowerment is becoming a citizen-driven imperative. It’s time Los Angeles followed suit. Charter reform must embrace the public’s manifest desire for more-localized authority over quality-of-life issues coupled with internal economic consequences when localized power is exercised. We should begin reformation by utilizing what we already have our 15 City Council districts. First we must realign them into clusters of contiguous, wholly contained communities having commonality of needs and goals. The newly aligned districts should be given authority over purely local matters such as public safety (fire, police, ambulance services, curfews, etc.), parks, libraries, street repairs, tree trimming, trash pickup, signage, land use, permits, inspections and such other parochial functions. To encourage future growth and job creation and discourage NIMBYism, the 15 realigned districts should retain all the revenue enhancements generated by new development. Let the citizens of each district decide how best to utilize those new revenues. As smaller cities throughout the county have demonstrated, when development swells local coffers, the prospects for future development changes from negative to neutral from an equation of lose-win to one of win-win. We must also offer incentives to attract new businesses from outside the city by permitting them to lower (or even eliminate) business tax on gross receipts, streamline permitting and cut needless red tape. We must also permit districts to internally seek voter approval for new sources of revenue tailored to specific district needs. Because they possess institutional memories and expertise in dealing with the city’s bureaucracy and to ensure continuity, the 15 City Council members should automatically become the first district mayors. They should serve four-year terms at their current city salaries and retain their present staffing. In each district, elected citizen boards of from five to seven residents should serve as the district’s legislative body, meeting one evening each week, thereby encouraging attendance by district residents. Each district board member should be paid $100 per diem with a cap on total remuneration of $5,000 per year. Jurisdiction over regional matters and downtown Los Angeles should reside under a restructured metropolitan city government, headed by L.A.’s mayor who should be accorded all the power one must have to become an effective chief executive officer for a city the size of Los Angeles. A 50-member city council (including the 15 district mayors) would serve as the city’s legislative body with limited oversight by the mayor and executive branch. The 35 new city council members would also be paid $100 per diem. Since the districts would deal with local issues, the city’s legislative requirements would necessitate far less time than the current City Council now spends debating the minutiae of management and administrative matters. As such, the new metropolitan council would need to meet only three or four times per month (as is the case in most other major U.S. cities). And just as a federal supremacy doctrine governs our national system, a similar doctrine involving regional supremacy would be needed so that when conflicts arise, regional issues (those affecting more than a single district) would take precedence over local issues. The mayor, elected by and accountable to all voters of the city, should be the arbitrator of such conflicts, subject to reversal by a super majority of the metropolitan city council. The costs and bureaucratic impact of this plan would be minimal. The per diem stipends for all the new elected officials would total less then $900,000 per year. In a city with a $4 billion annual budget, that amount is negligible With a July 1, 2001 start date, this new, locally empowered, development-and-job-incentivized regional governance, overlaid by a streamlined, regionally focused, citywide government, could enable this city to begin to realize its real potential for citizen involvement and dynamic economic growth and prosperity in the coming century. David W. Fleming, an attorney, was Mayor Riordan’s co-chair for city charter reform. He is also chairman of the Economic Alliance, a former chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a Los Angeles city fire commissioner and a member of the California Transportation Commission.

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