Time for a Civic Assembly for Los Angeles charter reform – Daily News

It’s now been 18 months since the racist recordings of three Los Angeles City Council members were leaked to the public – revealing hideous power struggles underlying the redistricting process for city elections.  The City’s response has been unnecessarily slow, insufficiently narrow, and limited by conflicts of interest. That’s why its time for an LA Charter Reform Commission to be established in the form of a Civic Assembly.

Civic Assemblies are bodies that have been established around the world, that place representative groupings of everyday people together into deliberative and decision-making roles on key public policy issues. Sometimes Civic Assemblies are formed to address a particularly intractable issue, that would benefit from a range of perspectives coming together to form a consensus.

In other cases, Civic Assemblies are formed to address issues that public officials should not be deciding for themselves.  This is the same principle behind placing an LA City Charter change on the November 2024 ballot, that would establish an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to draw LA City Council district lines — taking control out of the hands of politicians whose election can benefit from such choices.

But fair representation is also about how many elected officials we should have, how they are elected, and what powers they should exercise. Because of the obvious conflict of interest, such decisions are not best made by politicians that would be affected by them. Nevertheless the City Council opted against creating a charter commission to consider such questions, deciding they’d handle reform themselves, creating an internal Ad Hoc Committee on City Governance Reform to consider independent redistricting and increasing city council size.

The Ad Hoc Committee was able to arrive at an IRC proposal because the political choice to establish one was obvious, leaving a mostly technocratic discussion on applying best practices. But it made little progress on Council size and is now finally expected to recommend assigning the issue to a newly formed Charter Reform Commission (CRC).  The trouble is, they appear poised to make the same mistake as they are trying to fix with an IRC, only considering an advisory CRC appointed by politicians, that leaves the ultimate decision of what to put on the ballot controlled by the City Council.

In no U.S. city is more power concentrated in fewer hands than in Los Angeles — and the City Council has been racked by corruption scandals. With only 15 members representing nearly four million people, LA has the country’s worst per-capita city council representation. By contrast New York has 51 city council members. Chicago has 50.

Should Los Angeles politicians control the debate on how much this power should be defused among themselves, or should the community? There are already Council members bemoaning the potential loss of their personal power under a larger council. Most suggestions from Ad-Hoc Committee members about council size have been on the very low end compared to input received from the public.

And the Ad Hoc Committee hasn’t even studied elections from multi-seat districts by proportional ranked choice voting (PRCV), as voters in Portland, Oregon recently enacted. Under PRCV, there are multiple winners — and fuller representation from within each district — as more diverse elements of the community win representation at the same time, better realizing the goals of the California Voting Rights Act and not pitting one racial and ethnic group versus another, which winner-take-all, single-seat fiefdom district elections inevitably will do, regardless of who draws district lines.

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