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Creation of Charter Reform Panel Backed

Government: Council committee recommends a $300,000 start-up budget for proposed 15-member citizens commission.

August 29, 1996|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taking a key step toward reforming local government, a Los Angeles City Council panel recommended Wednesday creating a 15-member appointed commission with a $300,000 start-up budget to rewrite the city's 71-year-old charter.

If approved by the entire council next week, the citizens panel could draft a new charter for the April 1999 ballot that backers say would streamline government and give citizens more power to decide local issues.

The city attorney's office also cleared up a long-standing question in the reform effort by telling the council's Rules and Election Committee that state law grants an appointed panel the power to put its reform ideas directly on the ballot.

An earlier opinion by a city legislative analyst said only the council or other elected panel can put charter measures on the ballot.

The recommendation signaled the latest step in a reform movement spurred in part by threats of a San Fernando Valley secession.

Although government reform is widely supported, city leaders and civic activists have been at odds over how much influence the City Council should have over the process.

Saying the council is too entrenched in the current political system to support true reform, Mayor Richard Riordan and Valley business leader David Fleming have launched a signature collection drive to create an elected citizens reform commission.

Riordan has even promised to bankroll the drive to collect a minimum of 197,000 signatures by Oct. 30.

But council President John Ferraro and Councilman Mike Feuer, both of whom are members of the Rules and Elections Committee, have argued that the council should have a role in appointing a commission with a geographically, racially and socially diverse membership.

An elected panel, they have said, may not include such diversity or expertise in local government.

"I think the diversity of a charter commission is critical since the charter that governs the city has to be drafted by individuals who reflect what this city is today and what it will be tomorrow," Feuer said.

Under the proposal by Ferraro and Feuer, the citizens panel would hold hearings throughout the city before drafting a set of government reform measures.

The council could make recommendations to the panel for revisions or amendments but the citizens panel would have final say in adopting or rejecting those ideas.

The citizens commission, however, would have to submit its ideas to the council at least six months before the April 1999 election to give the council time to review the proposed measures.

If the council disagrees with the panel's proposed charter reform measures, the council could put its own competing measures on the ballot alongside those of the commission.

Although Riordan has vowed to continue with the signature drive, he has met several times with Ferraro in an attempt to reach a compromise. In fact, the two have discussed potential candidates for the commission.

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In recent days, Riordan and Fleming have spoken positively about reaching a compromise proposal with Feuer and Ferraro.

On Wednesday, Riordan spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez said, "This general framework sounds like a step in the right direction."

She added, however, that Riordan will continue pressing for the signature drive to keep his options open. The mayor plans to join Fleming and others to collect signatures at a Ralphs supermarket in Studio City today.

Fleming, who is also president of the city's Fire Commission, said he is still somewhat concerned that the council may appoint commission members with ties to the council.

"If they all appoint their own staff members, that is not going to work," he said.

But Fleming said he may support the proposal if the council allows the mayor some input in selecting the commission members.

"It's obvious that we are getting close," he said. "I'm very hopeful."

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