Where Mayor Richard Riordan delivered his annual State of the City speech--Taft High School in Woodland Hills--mattered almost as much as what he said--that Los Angeles needs the efforts of all its residents to reinvigorate municipal government. Riordan's speech last week was clearly aimed at heading off efforts to split the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles, and it was a shrewd political move to hold the event as far from downtown City Hall as possible.
As secession advocates prepare to circulate petitions that would cut the Valley's ties to Los Angeles, Riordan's words should serve as a reminder that democracy is a participatory endeavor. The undeniable mess in City Hall is at least in part the fault of residents who left it to someone else to care about running Los Angeles. The result: a council that often acts like a pack of brats who mistake their personal whims for the will of the people.
But budding secession movements in the Valley and other parts of the city should alert the council that business as usual is no longer good enough. Yes, the people of Los Angeles ought to shoulder more of the burden of civic responsibility. At the same time, they ought to share in more of the rewards. Council members can take a few steps to show residents they're serious about reform. For starters, they can follow the mayor's example and hold more meetings in the neighborhoods that elected them.
Getting involved in civic government demands first knowing that participation makes a difference. It's doubtful now. The City Council needs to show ordinary residents that their voices matter again.