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IS NO CHARTER A BIG PROBLEM FOR SMALL CITY?

Byline: Harrison Sheppard Staff Writer

If voters approve San Fernando Valley secession Nov. 5, they will create a city that is smaller and, critics say, fundamentally weaker than Los Angeles' government.

The Valley would become what is called a general-law city, a type of government that follows a generic template created by state law typically for smaller cities like Burbank or Glendale. Los Angeles is a charter city, which means it has the flexibility to create its own government structure and rules.

Secession opponents say the difference is significant and that the new city would lose many provisions of the Los Angeles City Charter that create a strong form of government and protections for its residents, such as a living-wage ordinance and a strong mayor.

Cityhood advocates, however, say it doesn't matter because the new city is likely to eventually try to approve a charter anyway.

``Under the charter city, you may enact laws that are custom-made to suit the needs of the people and the people can enact the laws,'' said Harry Coleman, a North Hills activist and secession opponent.

``In a general-law city, it's much more restrictive, and it limits the amount (of control) and spells out what you're going to do because you're under state control. There is a big, big difference.''

Opponents believe it could take years for a Valley city to create a new charter. When Los Angeles officials - faced with the threat of secession - decided in the late 1990s to revise the City Charter, they took about three years to complete the process. The changes created advisory neighborhood councils and area planning commissions and gave the mayor more power.

Creating an all-new charter, opponents argue, would take even longer.

But Richard Katz, chairman of the Valley Independence Committee, is confident the new city would create a charter and could do it in less time than it took Los Angeles to revise the old one.

``Creating a charter could take weeks or months - it doesn't have to take years,'' Katz said. ``Only in Los Angeles would something like that take years.''

He said the Valley mayor and city council elected Nov. 5 could begin informally working on a charter before they are formally sworn in July 1, 2003, so that they could have something ready to present to the public soon after the city is formally incorporated.

Several of the candidates and leading advocates of secession have suggested that a charter is necessary, Katz said, but the decision would ultimately be up to the new city council and mayor, as well as the voters.

He believes most of the positive provisions of the Los Angeles charter, such as the living wage, could be created through ordinance.

Some of the elements now in the Los Angeles charter that experts say would be affected in the new city include:

--The living wage, which imposes minimum wage requirements on companies that do business with the city.

--The documentary transfer tax, a real-estate sales tax that charter cities can impose above the amount already levied by the county. General- law cities cannot impose the tax, meaning the new Valley city would lose - and its taxpayers would therefore save - about $30 million a year in revenue.

--Neighborhood councils and area planning commissions, which were created in the latest charter reform to give a greater voice to local communities.

--Salaries of elected officials, which are limited in a general-law city to a maximum of $1,000 a month, unless voters approve an increase.

Raphael Sonenshein, who served as executive director of the appointed Charter Reform Commission, noted that L.A.'s charter also gives it some powers the city chooses not to exercise.

For example, he said, the charter gives the city some leverage over the Los Angeles Unified School District, including the ability to make the school board appointed by the mayor instead of elected by voters.

Charter cities tend to be the state's largest cities, including San Francisco, San Diego and Oakland, while general-law cities are smaller municipalities that don't have the resources or the inclination to create their own charter.

General-law cities usually have a part-time city council and mayor, with a powerful city manager running the city's day-to-day operations, while charter cities have a stronger mayor who acts as CEO.

``General-law government gives you an off-the-shelf government that the state thinks is OK,'' Sonenshein said. ``But if you're ambitious and want to do a lot of things, it's hard to not be a charter city.''

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VALLEY SECESSION: WHAT'S THE TRUTH?

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 16, 2002
Words:758
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