OP/ED - The LA Governance Reform Project is an independent panel of public policy experts charged with the responsibility of offering sensible solutions to bring accountability and transparency to LA city government.
The group is a result of the controversial audio tape that lambasted fellow council colleagues leading to the resignation of two members as well as an influential city labor leader. The remarks were so racist and offensive in nature, council meetings were canceled due to the backlash created by the tone and tenor of the recordings.
One of the issues revealed was the patent political overtones of city council redistricting and the backroom dealings that take place in this gerrymandered and overtly partisan process.
In addition, the number of council members in Los Angeles is just fifteen, making it the smallest and most politically powerful of any major American city.
Councilmembers that rule their fiefdoms like districtwide kings and queens!
While any major reform would require amending the city’s charter, many believe the LA City Council will place on the ballot in 2024 new language that will address redistricting as well as the size of municipal government from the current size of fifteen to doubling it to thirty.
Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States with 3.9 million residents, but just fifteen members elected by district with the mayor elected at-large.
Council districts currently represent roughly 260,000 residents, the largest amount by far of people of any of the ten largest cities in the United States today.
For example, New York City has 8.5 million residents, but 51 council districts or 166,000 per unit. Chicago has 2.7 million residents, but 50 aldermen with each district representing some 54,000 people.
Not only does Los Angeles have one of the smallest of all city councils, they have the largest salaries and benefits totaling more than $300,000 when you consider the usage of a city owned vehicle, gas card, free health benefits and a pension upon retirement.
All in all, LA City Council members are part of an elite political club with absolute power in their districts on virtually every aspect of the delivery of city services, maintenance, planning and personnel.
Political prizes so coveted and sought as witnessed in last year’s council contest in CD-11, they “earn” more than the Governor and members of the US Senate and House of Representatives.
That’s more than Gavin Newson, Nancy Pelosi, Alex Padilla and Diane Feinstein!
According to LA City Council President Paul Krekorian, his ad hoc committee on charter reform will offer specific recommendations for the council to consider by mid-September. The GRP is calling for a ballot question come the 2024 November election for greater voter participation rather than the March municipal primary.
And the GRP has secured the support of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, and the California Community Foundation.
With leading experts on municipal governance such as Raphael Sonenshein, formerly head of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs and Boris Bricks of the Center for California Studies, this will be once in a generation opportunity to expand the size of the city council that would offer meaningful change and reform that will bring further political accountability to a body that is distant and detached from most Angelenos and Venetians alike.
Doubling the size of this council will bring greater transparency to a body that meets during the day with little empathy for those they claim to represent.
It will be interesting to see if our new Councilwoman Traci Park (CD-11), herself a Venetian and practicing attorney will recognize the practicality and progress such an expansion of the size of this body will bring to residents long ignored which has led to secession eruptions in the Valley as well as here in Venice where many contemplated a revived cityhood consideration that would have seen Venice once again as a free standing municipality much the same as Santa Monica, Culver City, Malibu and Manhattan Beach.
For Venice was born the Fourth of July, 1905 until being absorbed Los Angeles in 1926.
Increasing the number of council members here in Los Angeles will place the country’s second largest city in the same governmental accountability and transparency as New York, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Dallas and even San Jose where council districts are under 175,000 per unit and under 100,000 residents in four of the country’s ten largest cities (Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Jose).
Charter reform is a needed step in bringing confidence back to LA city government in wake of the scandal, corruption and indictments that have plagued this shaken municipality.
It’s time for current city council members to put their support squarely behind this no-brainer, and obvious election reform.
For failure to do so will only confirm a continued support of a failed and corrupt status quo where little ever changes, much like the approach to such critical issues as homelessness and persistent high crime, and a quality of life that has been damaged by a feeling that nothing changes and nothing sadly, can ever be solved.
(Nick Antonicello covers government, culture and community as to all things Venice and is a thirty-year resident. Have a take or a tip? Contact Antonicello via e-mail at [email protected])