June 1, 2002 - From the June, 2002 issue

Hertzberg Outlines Bold Borough Plan For Governing City of L.A.

The idea of Los Angeles being governed by a borough style of government has been tossed around for nearly 100 years. Finally, as the city stands on the brink of subdivision, it appears as if the time has come for boroughs to be thoroughly considered and analyzed as an alternative to the secession measures already on the November ballot. Speaker Emeritus Robert Hertzberg has drafted a plan by which Los Angeles would be divided into nine boroughs, no longer led by a City Council, but by a Board of Borough Presidents. TPR is pleased to present this excerpt of Hertzberg's proposal.


Robert Hertzberg

These are tempestuous days for the City of Los Angeles. The debate surrounding secession raises important questions and stirs high emotions. While we engage in this critical discussion, we must not lose perspective on the distance our city has traveled. Taking into account both our challenges and our accomplishments, the history of Los Angeles is nothing less than a story of phenomenal success.

Los Angeles has always been an innovator in government. Located far from major sources of water or rivers, our forebears created unique systems for delivering water and power. At a time when the industrial age was showing the benefits of economic scale and professional management, the system developed in L.A.worked and was widely seen as a model for cities worldwide.

The society created under our system, albeit with certain flaws, was among the most creative ever forged. For the first time in American history, we established a city on the Pacific that has led the nation in everything from manufacturing and trade to mass entertainment. Our spirit of innovation has captured the imagination of the world. Los Angeles embodies originality in thinking and boldness of spirit.

Immigrants from more than a hundred countries tell stories of a city of new beginnings and opportunities. Los Angeles leads the nation as a center of Latino, African-American and Asian commerce; no city has more unique ethnic or cultural enclaves or more mixing among races.

Our growth has been anything but conventional. A city "built around freeways and automobiles," our design continues to evolve. Years of constant growth have strained the resources of our city to live up to the needs and expectations of our people. Yet as the region has sprawled, Angelenos, like urbanites elsewhere, increasingly look inward, toward their communities, neighborhoods and places of worship.

Each of us identifies with the issues we face in the communities where we live. Whether it's mothers in East Los Angeles fighting to improve their children's education, or senior citizens in Woodland Hills lobbying for a traffic light, the energy of this city draws from our sense of place and connection to where we shop, where our children play and where we find everyday meaning in our lives. In surveys, Angelenos usually express satisfaction with their neighborhoods even while feeling ambivalent about the city as a whole.

How do we capture the vibrancy of our communities and translate that spirit of governance? First and foremost, we must recover our sense of place and build our renewed sense of cityhood on the foundation of these neighborhoods and how people feel toward them.

Recent efforts to restore our City Charter have helped the role of our mayor and define the need to effectively manage regional decisions. But the current governing structure doesn't foster a sense of place, nor does it provide us with the means to assert control over our lives. A city must provide more than the delivery of services; it must instill a sense of belonging and purpose.

Our task is to envision a system of governance that will renew our sense of democracy and empower our commitment to the future. We need to bring the spirit of innovation back to our government; our dynamism, diversity and technological development demand new solutions to meet the challenges of the new century.

It is our hope that this proposal will foster constructive debate and discussion worthy of the citizens of L.A.

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Proposed Borough System For The City of Los Angeles

• The City of Los Angeles shall be divided into 9 boroughs. The boundaries of each borough shall be drawn so as to have approximately equal populations and, to the extent possible, respect the boundaries of the existing neighborhood councils. (The population of these boroughs will be approximately 410,000; slightly larger than Oakland (400,000) and Sacramento (403,000) but smaller than Fresno (415,000).)

• The voters of each borough shall elect 5 Representatives, from districts of equal populations, to the Borough Board. (The population of these districts will be approximately 82,000; approximately 84% of all cities in California have smaller populations.)

• Each representative shall serve for 4 years. The initial term for approximately half of the representatives shall be only 2 years. (This will stagger the terms and ensure continuity of experience.) Each representative shall be limited to two terms on the Borough Board. If the initial term is for only two years, that term shall not count against the limit on the number of terms that may be served. Any time served on the existing Los Angeles City Council shall not be counted against this limitation.

• Each borough shall have a meeting hall within the borough at which weekly meetings of the Borough Board shall be held. City departments that provide services on a citywide basis (e.g., the Fire Dept.) shall have a departmental representative at these halls. Non-city entities (e.g., MTA, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, etc.) shall be encouraged to locate their local offices at the halls, to conform their local service boundaries to those of the boroughs, and to develop facilities that are jointly used by one or more governmental entities.

• Each Borough Board shall elect one of its members to serve as Borough President and on the citywide Board of Presidents. The Borough President shall serve in that capacity for two years. In addition, the Borough President may be selected to serve a consecutive term in that office or in subsequent years. The Borough President shall preside over meetings of the Borough Board, appoint committee members and represent the borough on the Board of Presidents.

• Each Borough Board shall submit an evaluation regarding the delivery of services in their borough by City Depts. to the Board of Presidents, the City Departments and the Commissions overseeing the work of the City Departments. The Board shall also coordinate the delivery of services within their borough by the city departments and, with regard to the departments that provide primary neighborhood services shall determine the manner in which these services will be delivered within the borough.

• The number of Area Planning Commissions shall be increased to 9 commissions with boundaries that conform to the 9 boroughs. In addition to their other planning functions, these commissions shall make recommendations to the Board of Commissioners of the City Planning Dept. with respect to city planning and related activities and ordinances. A commission may also make recommendations to its Borough Boards as to zoning ordinances for its respective Borough not inconsistent with the city's General Plan.

• The Board of Presidents shall be composed of the 9 Borough Presidents, and be vested with the legislative power of the city. The Board shall meet no more than every other week, and shall have the power to adopt local ordinances that it deems appropriate. The Board shall regularly review the operations of city departments. The Board shall review and modify, as it deems necessary, the city budget proposed by the Mayor and, moreover, shall apportion the funds for the delivery of services for the city departments that provide local services to the Borough Boards. Finally, the Board of Presidents shall elect a Chair who shall preside over meetings of the Board, as well as make appointments to the committees established by the Board.

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