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Valley Perspective

Dire Warnings, Brought to You by Democracy Lite

Secession is risky, they tell us. But at least we'd have somebody to blame.

April 12, 1998|KIMIT MUSTON | Muston is a North Hollywood screenwriter and author

I hate New York City. Because I love New York City. New York can treat you like dirt for weeks at a time: noise, crowds, traffic, garbage strikes. It's impossible. And then unexpectedly the town apologizes with a gourmet dinner, diamonds and fireworks. That's a city! Which brings me to my hometown, the Valley. Valley secession is going to be a lot of trouble and expense. Why go through all of that if you're just going to create another, bigger Burbank?

So I decided to make a list of all the things I hate about the Valley, to get a passion quotient on the new city-to-be. To my surprise, it was a very short list. In fact, the only thing I hate about the Valley isn't in the Valley at all. It's Los Angeles City Hall. I don't hate the building, of course. No, I put the words "City Hall" on my list because I couldn't think of anything else to call the faceless, passionless, personality-less bureaucratic morass that supposedly governs Los Angeles but whose primary function seems to be to avoid any responsibility for anything. I hate that.

I think the last person who really governed Los Angeles was Frank Shaw. That was in 1938. Frank was the mayor and what he said was the law. You might love Frank or hate Frank but you knew that Frank Shaw was the man to talk to.

Unfortunately, Frank Shaw was crooked as a snake. He was the first and last mayor to be removed from office. His chief of police went to jail. So did his brother.

Now, poor old Frank wasn't the first crook to get elected. You could have talked to Moses about politicians and pyramid schemes. And it's an old rule of democracy that you get the government you deserve. Still, Frank Shaw disappointed a lot of people who had believed in him.

After Frank's recall, the chastened residents of Los Angeles swore "never again" and spent the next decade and a half practicing vivisection on their politicians and the process. You might call the city charter produced by these reformers Democracy Lite. We've been living ever since with the mess produced by "safe" government. Consider the leaf blower ban. That seemed harmless enough for the City Council to pass: Cut noise and air pollution and save the hearing of gardeners. First it was the law. Then it wasn't the law. Then it was the law, but not right now. Then it might be the law, but wait six more months. Now it's really the law. Sort of. The cops are still waiting for instructions.

It's not really the fault of the politicians on the council. They have no experience at governing a large city. How could they? We call them a council but that's just a fancy name for a committee. And a maze of oversight committees has produced no vision for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is now considering reforming its reform charter. Guess how they're going about it? That's right. The job has been given to a couple of committees. How could this end well?

After 40 years in the desert, the people of Israel didn't have to figure out where they were by synthesizing reports from the Committee on Sun Rises, Committee on Sun Sets, and the Committee on Following the Sheep Dropping from the Caravan in Front. I'm not suggesting that we appoint a Moses of Los Angeles or the Valley (although I am available as of Thursday). But I can design a working city government in a New York minute: a mayor to fire the district attorney when O.J. gets off and a City Council to criticize the mayor's budget and breed new mayors. But committees don't usually go for solutions this simple. Meanwhile, City Hall has been warning against the secession of the Valley. It's risky, they tell us. We might get our hearts broken, they tell us. We might end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Broke.

Yes, we might. But if we do, we'll have somebody to blame--ourselves. And I love that.

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