Six Ideas to Reform LA City Council

GUEST COMMENTARY - Like many of you, I was absolutely disgusted at the litany of racist remarks that were both spoken and tolerated by members of the Los Angeles City Council.

As maddening as those words were, the context was even worse. It was through the lens of racism that members of our Los Angeles City Council were attempting to disenfranchise voters that were not like them. The casual crassness on display was eye-opening but frankly not surprising to any of us who have worked in LA city politics, and I suspect not that surprising to most of you. We have had so many council members and former council members arrested, indicted, run out of office, or jailed that the FBI public corruption division might as well open up a field office on the third floor City Hall. It is time for a change, but this change must come from the ground up. This change must come from the Neighborhood Council level.

There comes a time in each of our lives when we heed a certain call. When we must all work together for the common good. When we work for something greater than ourselves to leave a legacy for generations to follow us. Years ago, I and over a dozen other dedicated neighborhood council members organized nearly every Los Angeles city neighborhood Council to successfully oppose a water rate hike by the Los Angeles Department of water and power. Out of that movement grew what would later become known as the Los Angeles neighborhood council Congress, now known as the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC). Defeating the rate hike was not our only goal, we took it one step further to bring permanent change to how the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power interacts with the people of Los Angeles and created the first ever MOU (memorandum of understanding) between a city agency and the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council system. We demonstrated that when we work together, we can accomplish what seems like an impossible task. 

I believe the bell of history is calling on us once again. Our city is in trouble, and most of us know how to fix it. We just need the will to do it. Almost every one of us has dealt with the city of Los Angeles and the entrenched interest groups that drive our city into the arms of corruption. It starts with the pay of Los Angeles city council members, which is well over $207,000 per year, one of the highest in the nation. They have some of the largest districts of any city Council in the country. The list of "perks" goes on and on, so much so that it is not uncommon for people to leave state office and come back to the city of Los Angeles to run as a City Council member. I believe all of this can change. Below you'll see just a few ideas that some of us have; some may be good, and some may be bad. I'm not asking anybody to sign up for any individual idea but let me give you an idea of what I am thinking:

1. Expand seats on the city council so that districts are smaller and the council members can become more responsive to their constituents. 

2. Make it a criminal offense to tamper with the existing 21-member redistricting commission.

3. Eliminate the ability for a city council member to run for another office while on the payroll of the city council.

4. Eliminate the ability for city council members to use their paid staff as "volunteers" for other political campaigns.

5. Reduce the salaries of the city council by untying them from the current system, placing a flat salary in its place with raises chained to the consumer price index (CPI).

6. Restore the two-term limit for city council members

These are just a few ideas; you may have more. What I envision is establishing a citywide committee that is made up primarily of current and former neighborhood council members to begin hashing this out, much as we did years ago with the Department of Water and Power. Ultimately, we would create a document that would be presented to the voters of the City of Los Angeles for changes in the Los Angeles City Charter.

If you are interested in joining this movement, please reply. Contact me at any time.  [email protected]

(Jim Alger is a Former President - Northridge West NC and Former Delegate/ Vice Chair LANCC)