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Charter Reform: Why It Matters

Yes on School Board Reform

May 23, 1999

On June 8, voters will be asked to make four choices regarding the proposed new charter. In previous editorials, we have enthusiastically endorsed Measure 1, which would replace the city's obsolete, 75-year-old charter with one that would bring more accountability and flexibility to City Hall.

We also strongly endorsed Charter Amendment 4, to reduce the size of council districts and make representative democracy mean something again in Los Angeles. It is preferable to Charter Amendment 3, a too-timid version of council district reduction.

Voters on June 8 must also make a separate choice about reforming elections for members of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, because the school district encompasses more than just the city. Those reforms, Charter Amendment 2, must receive a majority of the votes of both city residents and nonresidents to take effect. We urge a yes vote.

The current charter gives the City Council unilateral power to draw district lines for the Board of Education. The result has been undue political influence in the drawing of district boundaries and splitting clusters of elementary, middle and high schools into different districts. As usual, students and their parents have been the losers.

The proposed charter would create a citizen redistricting commission to advise the City Council in drawing new school district lines after the 2000 census. The panel would include members appointed by the council president, the mayor and the Board of Education. This advisory commission would hold public hearings, and that alone would be a change for the better.

The new charter also adds sensible redistricting standards. For instance, districts should be geographically compact, keep neighborhoods intact as much as possible and conform to high school attendance patterns.

The new charter itself, Measure 1, would reform City Council districting, which is now solely in the hands of council members. They have not been shy about using that power to dump a troublesome neighborhood or annex a quieter, wealthier one. The result is Los Angeles' bizarrely gerrymandered districts, lumping disparate neighborhoods in the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley with heavily urban parts of the city.

The new charter would create a citizen redistricting commission like that proposed for schools, as well as public hearings and reasonable boundary standards. These changes take effect if Measure 1, the charter reform itself, passes. Charter reform opponents, including council members who fear losing personal power, are twisting arms and working hard to defeat Measure 1. But the voters--who in a poll last week recorded a bigger number leaning toward the measure than against--have the final say.

For a better city, and better representation, vote yes on Measure 1, Charter Amendment 2 and Charter Amendment 4.

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