Fresh Breeze in City Hall

Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla last week proposed reorganizing the council's 15 standing committees. Yawn. But wait. The proposal may tell us a lot about this council's priorities for the city, especially those of its new president and six new members.

Padilla says he met individually with each new member as well as the eight council veterans before suggesting the reorganization. It's a safe bet that the idea for a new committee called Neighborhoods and Schools didn't come from the council holdovers, many of whom fought the charter reform that established neighborhood councils. The new council members came in eager to signal their support. The committee would help neighborhood councils get organized and certified.

The new council members also came in knowing how much their constituents care about education and how little they care that schools are not City Hall's responsibility. The new committee would work with the Los Angeles Unified School District to find sites for new schools, develop after-school programs and increase joint use of parks, playgrounds, libraries and computer centers.

The proposed ordinance would also eliminate one committee and restructure responsibilities on four more. Some seemingly tiny changes have a larger meaning. Housing and Community Redevelopment, for instance, would become Housing and Community Development . Some council members had expressed concern that the old committee neglected housing and got bogged down in redevelopment, specifically the controversial Community Redevelopment Agency. The new committee would shift the emphasis to meeting Los Angeles' dire housing needs--for affordable housing, new housing and the inspection and maintenance of existing housing.

Disbanding a committee, Intergovernmental Relations, carries another message. Certain committees, including this one, seldom met. The new council members wanted all council committees to count--and to do work. Intergovernmental Relations would be folded into another council panel.

For a city threatened by secession, the changes signal a welcome emphasis on community building. And for a city skeptical that its government can be effective, they signal a willingness to try. Whatever changes the council endorses in the next weeks will be the first made to council committees in 11 years. The challenge then will be to make the changes more than symbolic.

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