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The League and Charter Reform
By Xandra Kayden, LWVLA President
The Los Angeles League has played a role in charter reform since the days its founder married the man who headed the commission that authored the 1924 charter. Through the years, it completed a number of studies on local government, and was an active observer and participant in numerous commissions in the city, including the last charter reform effort in 1970 which failed. It therefore came as no surprise that the League would play-a role when the city created two charter reform commissions in 1997. The League completed its last study on the city's charter in 1994.
Although several members served on one of the commissions, including the co-chair of the 1994 Leaugue study, most of the League's efforts over the two years were devoted to the creation of study groups to investigate charter issues. The Charter Education Project (CEP) was a classic League activity insofar as it provided non-partisan education on the issues. A-typically, the League received over $200,000 in foundation grants, which enabled it to hire a staff, prepare the teaching material, and organize the study groups.
The study groups were drawn from community activists who typically belonged to three or four organizations. We considered the pros and cons of various charter proposals and provided the only opportunity most residents ever had to learn about city government. The hand-outs we provided usually came "hot off the press" as draft reports by city officials, or background research in the budget. All the material was assembled in a red loose leaf notebook, which was translated into Korean by one group and became known as the "red book." The curriculum included sections on what city government is all about and how the charter affects it; how we pay for it; who makes the decisions; the administrative structure and civil service; and how we make sure everyone is at the table. The last session brought members of both commissions together with the study groups for informal discussion.
When CEP ended, the study groups became a constituency for charter reform and facilitated the ability of the League to organize a broad Civic Coalition that came to play an important role in the final debates about the charter and the successful campaign for its passage that followed. What we were able to demonstrate was a breadth of commitment to engagement by leaders who understood the relationship between their communities, the larger city, and the government.
Speaking as one, The Civic Coalition began to change the dialogue in the city, representing and interest beyond the traditional voices in city hall of business, labor and homeowner associations. It is a big step forward for a diverse and changing city.
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