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Sunday Special | Valley Briefing

City Charter

December 01, 1996

The 680- page charter acts as the city's constitution, providing the blueprint for the city's government. It can only be amended or adopted by the vote of the people.

Critics of the charter, including Mayor Richard Riordan and Studio City attorney David Fleming, say the charter is out of date and inefficient. They contend that by diluting power in City Hall, the charter makes it difficult to hold anyone accountable. Riordan and Fleming also argue that citizens today want more influence over City Hall, and they suggest that the mayor needs more administrative authority to run the city.

Riordan and Fleming have collected over 300,000 signatures on a petition to place a measure on the April ballot asking voters to create an elected charter- reform commission that would suggest reforms. If 197,000 of the signatures are found to be valid, a measure will appear on the April ballot asking voters to create the 15-member panel, which will study the charter and put reform measures on the ballot. Riordan and Fleming hope that private donations will pay for staffing and meeting the panel's costs for two years. Riordan- a venture capitalist with a personal worth of about $100 million- has funded most of the campaign with his own money.

But many City Council members resent Riordan for trying to reform government without input from the council. In response, the council has voted to create a competing reform panel that will be made up of 21 appointed citizens who will suggest reform measures to the council. The council has retained the power to reject, rewrite or put the recommendations on the ballot. The council also voted to give the panel a $300,000 budget.

History

The city charter was adopted in 1925. Since then it has been amended more than 400 times. Attempts to rewrite and streamline the charter have failed about half a dozen times, most recently in 1971.

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What Does It Do?

The charter sets the rules for decision making and delineates authority in City Hall. Under the charter, power in City Hall is dispersed among about 40 citizen commissions, department heads, the 15- member council and the mayor. Historians say the charter was designed by the city's founding fathers to provide dozens of positions of power so that the ruling business class could run the city independent of the elected officials.

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What is the Debate?

A recurring theme in efforts to reform the charter has been whether to realign the balance of power in City Hall. Reformers have argued that the mayor, who is elected at large, represents the whole city, and the council members, elected by districts, have a provincial viewpoint. Consequently, supporters of reform have argued that the mayor, representing all the people, should be given more power. The mayor of Los Angeles currently has less administrative authority than the mayors of most other big cities.

Researched by HUGO MARTIN / Los Angeles Times

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