February 28, 1998 - From the February, 1998 issue

The Calif. Speaker’s Consigliere: Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg

The last State elections thrust Los Angeles into a new era of representation in Sacramento. Freshman Assembly Member Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) is a leading member of the new L.A. delegation, which includes recently elected Speaker of the Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa. In the following TPR interview, Hertzberg speaks candidly about the region’s prospects in the current session given the young, energetic team pulling for its interests. And he discusses the growing movement in Sacramento to restore home rule to California’s local governments.

Bob Hertzberg

“I have introduced a bill which would create an entity at the County level to look at all of these different agencies and to try to make some sense out of them.”

As the Assembly Member who most helped put together the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as Speaker of the California Assembly, share with our readers in Southern California what the significance is of his election and his upcoming February 26th installation. 

Antonio Villaraigosa is the first Speaker of the California Legislature from the L.A. area in 24 years. That will be very valuable to Southern California. 

Antonio's relationships and interests are primarily in Southern California. So, those who seek to advocate on behalf of L.A. County and the region have someone who has a much greater understanding of the area. Secondly, Antonio is a magnificent coalition builder. He is a member of the Latino community who has done a great job of reaching out to other groups to build coalitions. 

In terms of where this State's going, Antonio Villaraigosa is the future. 

Elaborate on what difference his elevation will make on issues like planning and land-use, water, and transportation—issues of relevance to the readers of The Planning Report and Metro Investment Report

Number one is clearly the water issue. It's a very big issue in terms of having someone from Southern California in the Speakership. Number two, one of the biggest fights we had in the Legislature last year over resources and transportation was the construction of the new Bay Bridge and how much money it was going to take. 

Certainly, having someone from Southern California would have helped dramatically in that fight. Bill Lockyer was a very effective fighter from Northern California, the Transportation Committee Chair in the Senate, Quentin Kopp, was also very effective in advocating for resources for Northern California. Now, Antonio will be very effective at advocating for Southern California. 

Since you formally nominated Antonio Villaraigosa as Speaker, and since being the nominator has traditionally been a signal that you're his number two and potentially a successor for leadership, please reflect on what your role is likely to be in legislature this year. 

It was a phenomenal honor to nominate Antonio. I wrote the speech myself, and I wrote it from my heart. I like him a lot and he's a very good friend. I think he'll do extremely well. 

Clearly, I have close relationship with him, and I will be someone who's very involved in the leadership. What title that will be I don't know at this time. But I expect I will be a trusted advisor, someone who can assist with the sticky and difficult problems that we face and be the person on business issues and other tough issues where I can go in and help him—in addition to my normal duties—solve the problems and move the business of the legislature forward. 

Whatever your role becomes, you've already been an especially effective liaison in the legislature for the interests of Southern California cities and Los Angeles County. Tell us about what’s allowed a freshman legislator to be so effective. 

Term limits have been wonderful for the County of Los Angeles in particular. We had a Speaker in years past, Willie Brown, who simply didn't have a positive relationship with L.A. County. Now we have several legislators—Richard Polanco, Carl Washington, Ed Vincent, Rod Wright, Antonio Villaraigosa, me, and a few others—who are very interested in L.A. County issues. We all pay special attention to L.A. County. There are many examples where we've been able to move resources.

Secondarily, there's been a shift which has brought a lot of local elected officials in as members of the Legislature. This has resulted in a much greater sensitivity towards counties, of which Los Angeles County is certain to be a great beneficiary. 

There are rumors that you are considering the introducing a bill that deals with some of the local State fiscal relationships in a more constructive way than has been true for some time. Could you comment? 

We have 487 subdivisions of government in L.A. County-86 school districts, special districts of various sorts, parking lot districts, lighting districts and 15 sanitation districts. A morass of bureaucracy and turf battling has been created out of this history of so many special districts and governmental agencies. 

Coming out of the Constitution Revision Commission was a proposal to allow for a systematic review of all these local agencies and somehow try to make some sense of them. I have introduced a bill which would create an entity at the County level to look at all these different agencies and to try to make some sense out of them, hopefully reducing the number of agencies and increasing the efficiency of government. 

Is this like the Metropolitan Charter idea that was originally proposed in the State Constitution Revision Commission? 

Yes, it is. It's different, however, in the sense that its statutory as opposed to Constitutional. 

There have been other efforts in the past to introduce a number of the Constitution Revision Commission's recommendations. But they didn't succeed, in my opinion, because (a) they were constitutional and required a greater vote threshold; and (b) because there were just too many of them. 

We've picked off this piece, which I think is the most important. And we're making it statutory as opposed to Constitutional, which will substantially enhance our ability to get it passed. 


You have been Chair of the Public Safety Committee this session, carrying about 30% of the bill load of the whole Legislature. What achievements are you most proud of and what do you think the legacy of your Chairmanship will be this year? 

The Public Safety Committee is historically the place where Democrats and Republicans have fought the most. It's where those who are generally perceived as soft on crime fight those who are tough on crime. 

But I sought to substantially change that dynamic and bring a bi­partisan approach to the process. I did that by changing the basis for what we do in our committee from anecdotal evidence—which has been the primary force behind legislative initiatives—to an empirical, data-based approach. So now, instead of Democrats versus Republicans, the argument what works versus what doesn't. It's been very successful.

Thirdly, I sought to take a very pro­active leadership approach in public safety issues—what do we Democrats stand for? I have also begun to develop a very comprehensive agenda on what we as Democrats would we do in the field of public safety. 

The electronic media and, to some extent, the print media have increasingly pulled out of covering the Capital and the substantive issues that the Legislature addresses. How have you tried to deal with that and what is the price paid by Los Angeles by not having an informed constituency for the issues you address when you’re in session?

The price is nothing less than huge. 

There has been a tremendous transfer of power from the federal government to the State government. We saw it last year in welfare reform, and we're seeing it happen more and more. At the same time, because of endemic post-Prop. 13 financial dysfunctionalities, we see tremendous responsibilities from these local jurisdictions—cities, special districts, school districts, and counties—being transferred to the State. Huge amounts of resources are coming from the State, over $100 billion last year. 

So, there are very, very important decisions being made at the State level, and there is very little attention being paid to it. That is bad news for everybody, because these kinds of issues need public attention in a democracy. 

I'm trying literally to create my own alternative structure of communicating through broadcast faxes, email, my own mailings, huge outreach to inform commissions in my districts, and through a number of other techniques in which I marry technology to basic political functions. 

It's very important to reach out like this because there is very little of a platform in the electronic or print media covering what goes on in Sacramento. 

Let's turn to one of the issues that you're well known for in the press in Los Angeles, and that is being the author and ultimately the co­author of the secession bill which eliminated the veto of the City Council of L.A. over secession. Are you a Valley secessionist? What do you hope will flow from your work on that bill? 

I am not a secessionist, period. I did not author that bill to directly facilitate a secession currently. I introduced that bill based upon fundamental principles of democracy.

Under our present organization, only 260,000 people elected our current City Council. In the last presidential election, only 950,000 people voted. The way this bill is drafted, all it does is take away a veto and put this decision—just like we do in the initiative process—in the hands of the people. 

The people in whose hands we put it are the people who seek to detach—50 percent-plus-one—and the entire city, 50 percent-plus-one. That is Democracy at its best.

The frustration that is legitimately exists in the San Fernando Valley has to do with the fact that you're being told what to do but and you don't have a level playing field where you can advocate your viewpoints and positions. 

I was trying to address that frustration at a democratic level. I'm advocating for fundamental changes in the charter, so it gives more local control to smaller jurisdictions through the l06 communities of the City of Los Angeles. 

Lastly, one of the elements or that legislation was the implementation language for the creation of a Commission on 21st Century Governance. Elaborate on what your idea was in including that provision. What do you believe will happen as these appointments are made this year and the Commission commences its work? 

The reason I introduced the legislation on the commission is because as I was reviewing the 179-page LAFCO statute, I saw tremendous inconsistencies in the law. It doesn't seem, given the current environment, that there was appropriate thoughtfulness given to the simultaneous detachment and incorporation of an area, a so-called "special reorganization."

I want this commission to look thoroughly at all these issues of boundaries, local control and how the whole LAFCO process works. I want it to look at LAFCO's relationship to the county, and even interrelationships among counties to come up with a more thoughtful process of how we deal with annexations, detachments, and incorporations and all of those elements of the LAFCO process.


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