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Wachs Backs Creation of Voter-Approved Reform Panel

Government: The councilman joins mayor in pushing for independent body to rewrite city charter.


Saying "it's simply not realistic to think that the [City] Council will change the status quo," Councilman Joel Wachs on Tuesday joined Mayor Richard Riordan in an effort to elect an independent panel to rewrite the city's 71-year-old charter.

Wachs, who voted against a council move earlier this month to create a citizens panel with only advisory powers to overhaul the charter, praised Riordan and San Fernando Valley activist David Fleming for their "courage" in pursuing the ballot initiative to elect a commission instead.

"L.A. city government cries out for reform. It should be obvious to everyone that it won't come from within City Hall," Wachs, who has been on the council for a quarter-century, said at a news conference. "Any real reform will have to come from the people. . . . It's the first time the public will have a real voice.

"You can't have government from the top down," he added. "It's got to percolate from the people."

In a related development Tuesday, Councilman Nate Holden challenged Riordan to a series of five debates on the question of charter reform.

"The public deserves to hear two opposing viewpoints on a matter that will change how our city is governed," Holden wrote in a letter to the mayor. "We will be fulfilling an important leadership role by bringing this entire matter to the people."

Riordan spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez declined to say whether the mayor would agree to debate Holden: "The focus right now is to qualify this measure for the ballot," she said.

Despite his support for a competing effort, Wachs said he would still make an appointment to the council's charter reform commission. "If that process goes forward, I want to be a part of it," he said.

But Riordan said Tuesday he would probably decline to make the three appointments reserved for the mayor under the council's plan. "It may confuse the residents of our city if I get involved in the two different reforms," he said.

Two weeks ago, the council voted 10 to 3 in favor of a long-dormant proposal by Councilwoman Ruth Galanter to appoint a 21-member commission. That body's recommendations on charter reform would return to the council for editing before going before voters for approval.

Riordan has pledged to spend up to $800,000 of his own money to finance a competing proposal that first calls for voters to elect 15 people to a reform commission and then consider the panel's recommended reforms without council intervention. On Tuesday, Fleming and Riordan announced they have already collected 100,000 of the 350,000 signatures they need by Oct. 30 to qualify their plan for the April ballot.

"Government by committee has never worked, in business or in the public sector. In this case, the committee is 15 council members," said the mayor, who with Fleming attended Wachs' press conference. "Angelenos, not elected officials and special interest groups, should decide what is best for our city. It is demeaning to Angelenos to think elected officials know better."

Times staff writer Jean Merl contributed to this story.

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