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Boroughs Proposal Advances to City's Neighborhoods Panel

Government: Critics say the councilwomen's plan is too vague and is mainly intended to confuse voters while deciding on secession.

July 09, 2002|SHARON BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal to decentralize Los Angeles government by creating a system of boroughs to make local decisions is expected to move forward today, but critics say it is too vague to offer real change.

City Council members Janice Hahn and Wendy Greuel said Monday that under their plan, voters would decide whether to establish a borough system for Los Angeles, and then a commission appointed by the council, mayor and other elected officials would work out the details of how the system would operate.

Their proposal does not go nearly as far as an option developed by former California Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, who has recommended abolishing the City Council and replacing it with nine elected borough chiefs from various parts of the city.

Greuel and Hahn said they expect their proposal to win two of three votes on the Education and Neighborhoods Committee this afternoon. If their measure eventually wins the backing of a council majority and of the electorate, it would give borough governments "authority over local issues, including budgeting, land use and delivery of services," Hahn said.

It is designed to answer concerns about whether Los Angeles is too big to be governed as a single entity--concerns that are helping fuel movements for independence by the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood. Critics, however, said it principally is intended to sidetrack a vote on secession by offering voters a confusing alternative to breaking up the city.

If the proposal went on to be approved by the City Council next week, a borough commission would be appointed within the month and a charter amendment mandating the creation of boroughs would be placed on the ballot in November, along with the cityhood questions for the Valley and Hollywood.

But the Greuel/Hahn plan does not say how many boroughs would be established, how they would be governed or whether their governments would be elected or appointed. It also does not say whether their authority would be binding--or whether the City Council would have veto power over borough decisions.

Under Hertzberg's plan, each borough would be run by a council of five elected officials, who would choose a president from among them. The boroughs would have binding power over local decisions, including land-use authority over many proposed developments.

Hertzberg, whom Greuel said she has asked to serve on the borough commission if the council supports the motion, declined to comment on the plan other than to say he hopes it leads to broad reform.

"I'm hopeful that it will lead to a system that creates local control and brings government closer to the people," Hertzberg said.

Hahn and Greuel did change their proposal in one key area as a result of discussions with Hertzberg: They originally wanted borough governments to be appointed, and therefore under state law purely advisory.

Now that language has been omitted, and the commission could theoretically set up boroughs that elect their own governments, which would allow them more power.

But Richard Close, who heads the pro-secession group Valley VOTE and supports making a separate city from the San Fernando Valley, said the proposal is a fraud, designed to trick voters into thinking that their concerns are being addressed by City Hall.

"If they were serious about boroughs, they would adopt the Hertzberg plan," Close said.

By leaving the details to be worked out by a handpicked commission, Close said, the City Council and mayor would assure that they don't have to give up real power to borough leaders.

But Hahn and Greuel said a more radical proposal would not have won enough votes on the mostly skeptical council to be placed on the ballot at all.

Any plan to create a borough system is expected to have trouble winning support from the council, many of whose members believe secession will be defeated without it.

As it is, Greuel said she is certain only of "six or seven" votes for her plan--not quite the eight needed for passage in the 15-member body.

Even if the council agreed to place the measure on the ballot in November, it is not clear if Mayor James K. Hahn, who has veto power, would approve.

So far, he has refused to take a position on boroughs, other than to say he believes the city's newly created system of neighborhood councils should be given a chance to work.

The mayor has been so cool on the plan that Janice Hahn, his sister, was reluctant to predict whether he would support it. "Oh God," she said Monday, "I hope he doesn't veto this."

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