Can Charter Reform Survive the Politics?


One result of this year’s battle over Valley secession was the resurrection of a charter reform effort for the city of Los Angeles.

Charter reform addresses many of the same issues as Valley secession: local control, effective use of power and improved government. Unlike the secession issue, few if any prominent city players are vocally opposed to reforming a document written 70 years ago when Los Angeles was a very different city.

Still, charter reform is at the center of a heated political battle, not about whether it should happen, but how. The City Council backs a plan for an advisory, appointed commission, while Mayor Richard Riordan favors a directly elected commission.

Some observers say that such a tug of war could paralyze or kill the effort to rewrite the charter.


Can Los Angeles reform its charter?

Xandra Kayden, UCLA political scientist:

“It’s not going to work with the two committees. It’s going to eat up the energy for the reform effort and get caught between the City Council and the mayor and at best result in a stalemate. . . . The problem is not in the specifics of the charter but in the politics that brings it about. . . . I think this process will kill it for another five, if not 25 years. . . . The best I could imagine coming out of it is both commissions failing at the polls and a third being resurrected out of the ashes.”

David Fleming, attorney and Studio City business leader:

“I thought that before we started cutting off the limbs [with a Valley secession from Los Angeles] we should start treating the patient and curing the disease. The way I see it happening is you have to give the mayor some additional power. . . . Secondly, we have to help the communities have more power. . . . This ought to be done through an elected citizens charter commission. . . . I was hoping the mayor and City Council . . . would jointly appoint a commission. It’s very apparent now that the majority of the City Council feels that they want to hold onto their power. I’m [still] very optimistic. . . . Sure, it’s gotten bogged down politically, but by having a publicly elected charter commission, you bypass all of the politics, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Bob Scott, local issues chairman, Valley Industry and Commerce Assn.:

“I don’t think the will to change local government has gone away. This has only heightened people’s awareness of government. . . . I think that what the council is engaging in now is truly a charade. They’re not really truly interested in charter reform now. . . . They’re putting a measure out there as a way of diffusing citizen involvement. As long as it’s advisory and they can ignore it, it really has no significance.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer:


“I was hoping for and promoting a commission which would include representatives of labor and business, and grass-roots organizations and homeowners, educators and academics all sitting together. . . . Should the commission’s work be able to go to the voters or not? I believe they should go to the voters directly. . . . Changing the status quo is a very difficult thing because there are very powerful forces who want to keep things the way they are. I think charter reform is in a very precarious position right now.”