YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Next L.A. | Ahead of the Curve

The Challenges of Change for the Area's Next Century

Two government lobbyists call for new approaches to financing of public services and schools. A scholar says reassessment of the City Charter is fundamental.

March 11, 1997

SACRAMENTO — As the 20th century draws to a close, two lobbyists who help shape that amorphous metropolis known as Los Angeles and a respected scholar who has written about the state's cultural and social development peer into an imaginary crystal ball.

So far, they are not cheered about what they see in the first 25 years or so of the next century.

For Norm Boyer, the city's advocate in Sacramento for almost 25 years, water and protection of its purity are high on the radar screen of "most important" issues facing L.A. in the year 2000 and beyond.

For Cliff Allenby, lobbyist for Los Angeles County for the past year and a Sacramento hand for 34 years, implementing welfare-to-work strategies will inject a new dose of government intervention into the lives of recipients.

But more important, both government experts foresee the delivery of fundamental local services in Los Angeles and elsewhere being strained to the breaking point unless bold reforms occur in financing of public services and schools.

Their crystal ball is less clear on what shapes these reforms may take, but Boyer warns that "without such change, the 21st century could be pretty bleak."

"Soon, if not already, state and local governments will be faced with the problem of the cost of basic services exceeding the ability of agencies to generate the revenues necessary to fund them," he says.

State Librarian Kevin Starr, who has written about California's cultural and social development, foresees other profound government issues ahead, including the potentially explosive secession movement in the San Fernando Valley.

In Starr's view, a key to determining what kind of place Los Angeles will be in the next century is in the hands of voters, who will decide in April whether to create a commission to rewrite the city's charter.

"The whole charter debate is real debate about the future of Los Angeles itself," said Starr. "In effect, L.A. is deciding whether it wants to move from the 'articles of confederation' to a true constitution."

Starr noted that the roots of the current charter reach back to the 1920s, predating the vast municipal expansion that absorbed such communities as Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley, Venice and others.

"Los Angeles doesn't have a true [contemporary] constitution because its charter is so out of date," he said. This inflames the notion that the current system of "imperial" governance is "too punitive to the San Fernando Valley," he said.

"If L.A. does not reform itself, it will break up eventually," Starr said. "The constitutional future of Los Angeles is a very powerful issue and will take us into the 21st century."

Boyer and Allenby, as lobbyists for public entities, try to advance and protect the sometimes conflicting interests of the city and county.

Although their names seldom appear in headlines or on the evening news, they are familiar figures at the Capitol as they seek to influence the outcome of state decisions on Los Angeles.


Recently, the two were asked to step away from daily combat in the legislative arena and scan the political horizon for issues that may dominate Los Angeles and the rest of California in the next decade or so.

They agreed to do so, but said their opinions did not necessarily reflect the official positions of their bosses at the Board of Supervisors or City Hall.

"We are fast approaching a time when the whole structure of government finances must be reassessed," Boyer said. "Either the old systems must be refined to allow the elected governing bodies to do their jobs, or a new structure must be developed that will accomplish the same goal."

As Boyer and Allenby see it, the big issue is money--the taxpayers' dollars and the constraints voters have put on raising and spending by enacting a series of ballot initiatives, starting with property tax-slashing Proposition 13 in 1978.

But, as might be expected of advocates for local governments, each cited enactment of Proposition 98, the far-reaching school finance initiative of 1988, as a relatively new adversary in the scramble to finance government in California.

Sponsored by the California Teachers Assn. and narrowly approved by the voters, the measure guarantees that public education will receive a certain level (at least 40%) of the state's general fund cash.

In addition, as the general fund receives revenue beyond expectations, public education consumes a bigger share of the growth. For example, the state Department of Finance estimates that about 61 cents of each new general fund dollar will be directed to schools next year.

This, coupled with vast expenditures on prisons, infuriates people such as Boyer and Allenby, who have seen local government revenues hammered by recessions and by having the state take property taxes to balance its own budget.

But in the early 21st century, Allenby foresees a "significant" change in the financing of schools as, in his view, it becomes more apparent that Proposition 98 is taking bigger bites of the state budget at the expense of other programs.

"It will also become apparent to the school lobby that taking a bigger share of the state budget will not mean a significant improvement in the quality of education," he said.

Allenby foresees that the Proposition 98 requirement that schools receive a guaranteed level of money "will be modified in return for a system of local financing with reasonable voting requirements."

How this will occur, he is not sure. But Allenby is convinced that with schools receiving an ever-larger share of the state general fund, excellence in education will not be achieved. "The general fund has never, ever funded anything more than mediocrity," he said.

Los Angeles Times Articles