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Charter Reform and L.A. Government

March 01, 1998

Both the two-part article by Jim Newton (Feb. 22, 23) and your Feb. 22 editorial clearly frame the issues that are part of the charter reform process. However, two significant elements which separate Los Angeles' approach to governance from other major cities' were omitted.

California state law clearly prohibits partisan politics from municipal elections and also clearly requires that the vast majority of interaction between a majority of the members of elected or appointed bodies occur in public. While both of these concepts help to eliminate "back room" deals, they also hinder the opportunity to develop consensus and to provide cohesive vision for the entire city.

Most of my fellow commissioners are rightfully searching for innovative approaches which will both increase the sense of local control and representation, while at the same time fostering a vision of the greater city. If the current, charter-mandated 15-person council, which provides the worst ratio of representation in the country, is expanded, the question becomes: How can they organize themselves in a manner which meets state law, yet provides the mechanism for discipline and citywide focus?

CHESTER A. WIDOM

Elected Charter Reform

Commissioner, 6th District

Los Angeles

* The collective power of the people of Los Angeles is far greater than that held by its elected and high-level appointed officials. City officials do respond when we send them clear and unified directions. I hold this view as someone who saw the action up close for three years while on the senior staff of a city councilperson. Newton should have interviewed former political aides. These aides have a unique perspective, since they worked at the pressure point between the general public and elected officials.

In addition, the article failed to mention the powerful role the media play in setting the agenda at City Hall. For better or worse, the reading list of our top officials rarely goes beyond the morning newspapers. The influence that money and insiders (e.g., paid and unpaid lobbyists) have on the process is also an issue that needs to be brought to light.

CALVIN NAITO

Los Angeles

* Twenty-four people, selected for their diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints, were asked by The Times to discuss their visions for the future of government in L.A.

A major developer was included in the mix, and others representing development interests, but no one with an ecological or conservation perspective. Developers (being in business, after all) are expected to have an opinion about how government functions. Why is it not even considered that individuals dedicated to the study and protection of the natural world would have equally strong ideas about the functioning of government?

CATHERINE RICH

Los Angeles

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