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An L.A. City Hall Near You

June 29, 2003

In sprawling Los Angeles, a trip downtown to take care of business at City Hall can take all day. This distance -- literal and figurative -- helped drive the decades-long San Fernando Valley secession movement.

Last Monday, eight months after voters citywide rejected Valley and Hollywood breakup proposals, Mayor James K. Hahn kept a campaign promise to break down the distance between City Hall and city residents. Sprinting from Tujunga to San Pedro, he dedicated six neighborhood city halls, with a seventh to come.

Residents can grumble -- and this being Los Angeles, they will -- that the city already owned most of the buildings and that giving them a new name won't improve services. True. But give Hahn credit for opening one new building, the long-promised Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center in Van Nuys, which replaces the old Van Nuys City Hall, damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. And judge him, most of all, by what happens next.

The mayor's Teamwork L.A. plan, in consultation with City Councilman Tom LaBonge, designates a city hall for each of the city's seven planning areas. They are meant to be more than symbols. Residents will be able to pay DWP bills, pick up permits and report abandoned refrigerators. Still works in progress, each will eventually be staffed by employees from key city departments; each will be charged with working with neighborhood councils and other advisory groups to come up with street-level solutions to neighborhood problems.

The Braude Center (6262 Van Nuys Blvd.) and neighborhood city halls in South Los Angeles (8475 S. Vermont Ave.) and San Pedro (638 S. Beacon St.) are open now. Three others, in Tujunga (7747 Foothill Blvd.), Hollywood (6501 Fountain Ave.) and West Los Angeles (1645 Corinth Ave.), are being remodeled and, along with a site the city is negotiating to buy in East Los Angeles, should open within six months to a year.

Tuesday marks the halfway point of Hahn's four-year term, and he probably thought the big battles -- secession, the appointment of a new police chief -- were behind him.

Instead, a newly muscle-flexing City Council, citing budget concerns, just nixed his plans to hire additional police officers. And some council members have even complained that Teamwork L.A., with its emphasis on block-by-block problem solving, usurps their constituent-service role -- as if Los Angeles didn't have enough potholes and abandoned couches to go around.

The mayor and the council will have legitimate disagreements in the next two years. But bringing city services closer to neighborhoods should be one goal they share.

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