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New L.A. Borough Plan Draws Interest

June 06, 2002|SHARON BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first detailed proposal to reorganize Los Angeles municipal government into boroughs would offer voters an alternative to secession, but its architect acknowledged Wednesday that it may face opposition from the City Council, which would be eliminated by such a system.

The borough plan by Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) could appear on the Nov. 5 ballot if it wins the backing of eight members of the City Council and Mayor James K. Hahn. Their support is needed, Hertzberg said, because there is not enough time to gather signatures to place the measure on the ballot without council backing.

On the same ballot would be two proposals to break up the city by creating new cities from the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood.

Hertzberg's proposal is the second in recent weeks to recommend a borough form of government for Los Angeles. Unlike another proposal--by City Council members Wendy Greuel, Janice Hahn and Tom LaBonge--Hertzberg's plan spells out a number of specifics of the new system, including the number of boroughs and their boundaries.

On Wednesday, it attracted some early interest, including that of David Fleming, who helped pay for the early efforts of Valley VOTE, the organization that led the campaign to put Valley secession on the ballot.

"I think it's a great proposal," said Fleming, a Studio City attorney. "It goes along with what I've been saying for years. But I don't think the council is going to adopt it, frankly. I just don't see them voting themselves out of office."

Hertzberg's plan would create nine boroughs. Voters in each borough would elect a five-member council that would control local budgets and services, including animal regulation, community development, housing, cultural affairs, parks and libraries. Each borough would also have its own planning commission, which would rule on small and medium-sized projects. Large projects would be overseen by a citywide commission.

Two of the boroughs would be formed in areas of the city where African American voters command a majority. Three or four would have substantial numbers of Latino voters, Hertzberg said.

Each of the five council members in each of the boroughs would represent wards comprised of 82,000 people, drawn from districts whose boundaries roughly parallel neighborhood councils, empowerment districts and other community lines. They in turn would elect borough presidents, who would serve for two years on a citywide Board of Presidents.

Former Assembly member Richard Katz, who is chairing the San Fernando Valley secession campaign, said he is skeptical that Hertzberg's plan can win City Council approval.

Katz said he supports boroughs for a new Valley city, but that Hertzberg's proposal would make wading through the proposals facing voters in November "more difficult and confusing."

Other secession advocates also have questioned the recent debate over boroughs, complaining that the idea is surfacing now in order to create a confusing ballot option that would doom the Valley and Hollywood efforts to break away from Los Angeles.

But Hertzberg said his plan "changes the debate" over secession.

"Neither argument works--it doesn't work to just quit the city and it doesn't work to leave things the way they are," said the former Assembly speaker, who carried the legislation that made Valley and Hollywood secession possible. "What we've done here is the best of both worlds."

Hertzberg said he has been working on the plan for months. The draft he distributed Wednesday included color maps and detailed descriptions of the plan.

But he conceded there is no time to gather signatures to place his proposal on the ballot independently of the council, forcing him to seek the backing of a majority of that 15-member body.

To that end, Hertzberg has tended to some political details: The nine City Council members who will not be forced to leave office in the coming two years because of term limits all would have the option of running for office in their own boroughs.

Greuel, who is leading the effort to win City Council support for boroughs, said she would be willing to incorporate elements of Hertzberg's plan into her own.

Greuel said, however, that she was concerned that Hertzberg's plan seemed fully formed, without input from public hearings. And, she said, the former speaker did not pay enough attention to how city services would be delivered.

Janice Hahn, who met with Hertzberg on Wednesday, welcomed the plan, saying that it needed only to be "tweaked" to win her support.

Times staff writer Sue Fox contributed to this report.

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