Backers of the proposed new charter for Los Angeles argue that City Hall is too far away and too unresponsive to the needs of the city’s far-flung neighborhoods. They say that decision-making in land use planning and development should be decentralized so that L.A.'s many diverse neighborhoods can make their own choices on issues that directly affect them.
Granted, the existing charter is antiquated and ill-suited to meet the demands of a modern city. But will the new charter that is being put forth provide solutions to the polarization of the city’s neighborhoods into the haves and have-nots? Will it address the concentration of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and high infant mortality in the poor neighborhoods? That’s not likely.
The causes of these urban problems are regional, which cannot be exclusively addressed by individual neighborhoods or cities acting alone. For example, most major industry, which in the past has provided employment for blue-collar workers, has moved out of the Los Angeles County region, while at the same time low-income residents have been concentrated into the inner city. As a result, there is less accessible work for minorities. This is a regional issue that cannot be solved by one city or neighborhood.
Also, state fiscal austerity measures, starting with Proposition 13 in 1978, have weakened the ability of local governments to finance public services, including affordable housing for low-income residents. Housing that produces limited property tax revenues under Proposition 13 and at the same time creates a significant demand for schools, public safety, etc., has become a drain on local coffers. Consequently, suburban municipalities have used their zoning and other land use controls to price out low-income families. These families now are concentrated in poorer neighborhoods including East Los Angeles, South Central, Watts and Pacoima. This has compounded the difficulties of these neighborhoods, which are faced with overcrowded conditions in schools and housing and a deterioration of public services in such crucial areas as health and police and fire protection.
A mere revision of the charter to give neighborhoods more autonomy is meaningless if such efforts are not accompanied by a comprehensive regional policy to deal with employment and fiscal problems. Since L.A. city government lacks the mandate to enforce regional policies, a state constitutional reform, not the charter revision, is a better way to address such issues as growing polarization between central cities and suburbs, the concentration of poverty in the urban core, the disparity in tax bases and the mismatches between where affordable housing and jobs are located.