May 7, 2004 - From the June, 2002 issue

L.A. Boroughs Proposal Continues To Spark Debate; CLA Breaks Down Greuel's Charter Amendment

The L.A. City Council has before it a resolution proposing the placement of a Charter Amendment on the November ballot to establish a Community Borough Implementing Commission charged with developing and implementing a borough system of governance for Los Angeles. The Chief legislative Analyst for Los Angeles recently reviewed the resolution and MIR is pleased to present the findings in this excerpt of the CLA's memo to Council.

Overview of Resolution

Resolution (Greuel-Hahn-LaBonge-Zine-Perry) proposes placing a Charter Amendment on the November 2002 ballot to establish a Community Borough Implementing Commission to implement a Community Borough System within the City of Los Angeles. Specifically, the Resolution indicates that the 15-member commission will submit a Charter Amendment detailing a plan for a Borough System for placement on the November 2004 ballot. The boroughs would be given the maximum administrative authority over community issues such as land use, delivery of services, public safety and fire protection. The Resolution also proposes establishing a process for the allocation of funds to each individual borough. The boroughs would be given a budget to address capital projects and service needs within the community. Each borough would also have a Community Borough Planning Commission which would serve as the area planning commission. Lastly, the Resolution vests the responsibility with the Implementing Commission to increase borough control over neighborhood public schools.

The Community Borough Implementing Commission would be responsible for developing the actual proposal. One individual from each of the 15 Council Districts will be elected at the November 2002 election to serve on the Commission. Some of the possible requirement and issues that the Commission would need to address are set forth below.

Basic Elements of a Borough System

The creation of a Borough System will serve to promote citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs. The established boroughs could work in conjunction with Neighborhood Councils to address community needs and to monitor land uses. The proposed boroughs could coincide with the seven current Area Planning Commissions (APC). Based on recommendations from Neighborhood Councils and the Borough Councils, the APCs would advise the Borough Councils relative to land use issues.

• Neighborhood Councils currently hold public meetings to discuss the needs of the local community. The Neighborhood Councils could report these needs to the Borough Councils which could hold additional public meetings to address priority issues or issues which impact the majority of Neighborhood Councils within each borough. Each borough could submit a quarterly status report to the Mayor and City Council with recommendations regarding local issues such as public safety, street maintenance, tree trimming, other public works programs, recreation and parks, transportation, and other community services. The Borough Councils would also meet with responsible officials of City Departments to discuss the delivery of services in their respective areas.

• Each Borough Council may present to the Mayor and the City Council an annual list of priorities for the City budget, including funding for the operation of the borough.

The 1925 City Charter authorized the City Council to levy a borough tax within the borough. The tax could not exceed ten cents on each $100 of assessed valuation. Such authorization was to be determined by resolution passed by a majority vote of the Borough Council and needed subsequent approval by the City Council.

The tax was to be added to and collected with the regular city tax in the manner in which city taxes were collected, and the rate could not be included in computing the tax limit. The proceeds from each borough tax were to be deposited into special fund accounts within the Controller's Office.

All money expended by a Borough Council was to be handled through the Controller's office. This provision was removed from the City Charter in 1973.

• The Mayor and Council would appoint a commission to evaluate the efficacy of the Borough Councils no later than four years after the establishment of the boroughs.

Policy Issues for the Creation of a Borough System

The Commission will need to address several policy questions as it formulates the borough plan. Many of the issues may require Charter changes. Some of the issues are as follows:

• What role, if any, would the existing Neighborhood Councils play in a borough system?

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• What role, if any, would the existing local area Planning Commissions play in a borough system?

• The Resolution suggests that the boroughs would have some increasedresponsibility over local schools. However, it should be noted that the School District boundaries are larger than the City boundaries, and some schools would not be located within any borough.

• What direct decision-making powers would the boroughs have and could the City Council override those decisions under charter Section 245?

• What existing powers will the Mayor and City Council relinquish to the boroughs?

• How many boroughs will be created?

• Will the current legal requirements in creating Council Districts also apply to the creation of the boroughs?

• Will the Redistricting Commission be involved in creating the boroughs?

• Will borough representatives be elected at large or by districts within the borough, or will they be appointed by Neighborhood Councils or other City Officials?

• Depending on the powers vested with the boroughs, will there be the need for a system such that the Council cannot act on an item unless the boroughs have had an opportunity to be heard?

• If the boroughs are to have more than just advisory functions, the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment must be considered. The creation of borough boundaries must not have the effect of diluting the voting rights of minority voters and must not result in boundaries which can only be explained on the basis that they were drawn with race as the sole criterion for forming such boundaries.

• The City Council should also consider structures within the City that already allow for community participation. Each police division has a Community Police Advisory Board and numerous neighborhood and business watch groups. Most of the cities' libraries and over 150 parks and recreation centers have volunteer groups consisting of local residents that are involved in initiating and participating in programs for their respective neighborhoods. The Community Development Department, the Community Redevelopment Agency, Airports, Cultural Affairs, El Pueblo, Public Works and the Planning Department have many advisory committees that offer residents the opportunity to participate. The City recently created a system of Neighborhood Councils and participate in the governmental decision-making and problem solving processes is still in the developmental stages. To date, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment reports that only 30 Neighborhood Councils have become certified and an additional 60 are in the process of becoming certified.

• During the Charter Reform process, the Council established an Independent Citizen's Charter Reform Commission in addition to the elected commission. Twenty-one members were appointed to solicit, receive, and evaluate recommendations regarding the restructuring of City government and to draft a proposed new City Charter. The two commissions were involved in independent but parallel efforts to develop their own recommendations for charter reform. Although initially working independently, both commissions began to share information to produce a unified charter. Ultimately, their recommendations formed a successful ballot measure. The Council should consider appointing a separate implementing borough commission to ensure that a comprehensive proposal is placed before the voters in November 2004.

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