valleyedit///lacter/mike1st Hed — Time to wise up Charter reform is a tough sell for a town not accustomed to deciding important public policy matters especially ones that won’t have any real impact for years to come. Are enough Angelenos even aware of the issue, much less able to take a position on it? That question, and others like it, take on greater urgency over the next two months. After much legal wrangling much of it instigated by the Los Angeles City Council voters in the April 8 city election will be asked to create and elect 15 members of a citizens’ panel to rewrite the charter. Substantive and reasoned reform is long overdue. The 71-year-old charter, which runs more than 700 pages and has been subjected to 400 amendments, is a hopelessly outdated document. Its mechanisms for dividing power among the mayor, the City Council and the assorted part-time citizen commissions leave more incentive for filibustering than for getting things done. Want to know why it’s such a hassle to get licenses in the city of Los Angeles? Wonder why business taxes are so capriciously drawn or why the mayor has so little power in getting things done? Much of it comes down to the charter. To his credit, Mayor Richard Riordan has taken the lead in reforming the system by supporting and partially funding the charter reform measure. It hasn’t been easy; it took a federal judge’s order to finally put the reform initiative on April’s ballot in essence, overruling council opposition. The council has created its own advisory body to recommend charter reform measures complete with veto power on any of the proposals. That arrangement strikes us as a cynical effort to keep the council in control, hardly the way to provide an open forum on the city’s future. In fact, the recent tug-of-war perfectly illustrates the need for charter reform. But if past is prologue, the debate will involve far too few voices. Voter turnouts for municipal elections even those that involve mayoral races are notoriously low, and we fear that the confusion in selecting members of a citizens’ panel could keep even more voters away. This serves no one’s purpose. Getting a mechanism for charter reform up and running is a landmark event and it requires mass participation not just the 15 percent of the electorate that, all too often, tend to make decisions for the rest of us. Now that the measure is on the ballot, Los Angeles has a real opportunity. Government officials, interest groups, the media, and the public at large have more than two months to examine the ways in which charter reform can help shape L.A. in the 21st century. This is not bite-sized stuff. It’s challenging, it’s complex and yes, it’s vitally important. The big question is whether L.A. is up to the task.