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Cutting the Cost of Participation

Testifying before a Los Angeles city commission is hardly an easy proposition. Most meetings are held downtown on weekdays, so something as simple as complaining about a neighborhood development project can entail missing a day of work, fighting freeway traffic and paying a princely sum to park--only to learn that the issue has been postponed.

Recognizing how hostile the process can be to the public, the City Council last week approved a sensible program to hold regular planning and zoning meetings--some of them at night--in more communities around Los Angeles. It’s a good start toward building a stronger connections between downtown bureaucrats and far-flung communities itching to break out of City Hall’s orbit.

Already, the planning commission and zoning administrators hold regular meetings in four communities around the city with agendas of local interest. The council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee now plans to add three more communities to the rotation and will hash out the circumstances under which evening meetings can be held. Most smaller cities already hold night meetings.

The committee should craft rules that permit the widest possible participation by residents in neighborhood affairs. In council debate last week, some members expressed concern over costs and inconvenience to city staff who would be forced to pack files from place to place. But the planning department estimates that adding three new meeting spots would cost just $14,000 each year. And the inconvenience of thousands of residents forced to trek downtown far outweighs the annoyances faced by a few city workers paid to serve the public.

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Keeping Los Angeles together requires keeping its residents involved. As it stands, the price of participation is just too high for most people.


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