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Debate Rises on Charter Plan to Break Up City

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The largest business organization in the San Fernando Valley announced Tuesday that it has endorsed a charter reform plan to break Los Angeles into 15 semiautonomous units as an alternative to secession.

“These should be ‘quasi-cities’ within the city of Los Angeles,” said the plan’s designer, attorney David Fleming, a former chairman of the business group, the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn.

The association’s 80-member board endorsed his plan by a 2-1 margin, its officials said.

The endorsement put the association at odds with the city’s other major business groups, the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Central City Assn. and a group of corporate chief executives known as the Los Angeles Business Advisors, which have opposed charter reform plans that take decision-making powers away from City Hall and give them to neighborhoods.

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The business groups say they fear that neighborhoods would use their power to block new developments and economic growth.

Fleming’s proposal seeks to blunt this concern by giving each district an incentive to approve new development. Under his plan, each district would retain additional tax revenues that the developments bring.

Fleming, who played a key role in launching the current charter reform efforts, said that “rearranging the deck chairs [of local government by] giving the mayor a little more power on paper, maybe expanding the City Council” will fail at the polls for lack of Valley support. The Valley contains a third of the city’s population and more than 40% of its voters.

Richard Close, the chairman of Valley VOTE, which is gathering signatures for a formal study of the practicality of Valley cityhood, predicted that the Valley business association’s endorsement will “put a lot of pressure” on the elected and appointed commissions that are drafting charter changes to submit to voters next spring.

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Reaction elsewhere was muted. A knowledgeable source said that Mayor Richard Riordan believes the plan is too complex.

George David Kieffer, who heads the appointed charter commission, predicted that “the mainstream of the city” would have problems with a “quasi-breakup” that he said had not been well thought out.

The plan endorsed by the valley business association would:

* Reconfigure the existing 15 City Council districts so that each would be a cluster of commonly perceived communities. Now, some areas such as Van Nuys are parts of multiple council districts.

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* Give each of the new districts power to decide issues affecting its residents’ quality of life, including the levels of police, fire, ambulance, street repair and tree trimming services and park and library hours they want. They also could set signage and landscaping rules and decide local zoning and land-use questions. Districts would contract with a citywide government to purchase services they want. No district would have less to spend for services than it gets now.

* Designate existing City Council members as the first “mayors” of their districts. District mayors would function as chief executives and work with part-time legislatures of five to seven members.

* Leave control of downtown Los Angeles and decision-making on regional concerns such as airports, utilities, sewers, transportation and the harbor to an elected citywide mayor and a part-time citywide council. That council would consist of each district’s mayor and representatives of each of the district boards.


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