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City Council Committee Hears Reform Recommendations

The City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform listens to public comment at its Thursday, August 10 meeting.

As we’ve previously reported (here and here), in the wake of several big controversies and scandals over the last couple of years, the Los Angeles City Council has appointed an Ad Hoc Committee for Governance Reform to make recommendations for possible changes in the city council redistricting process, the size of the Council, and ethics rules.

The committee has been holding listening and informational meetings since March of this year, and is now winding down that process and preparing to release its own set of recommendations later this month.  Before that, however, the committee spent its meeting last week hearing preliminary recommendations from three community-based groups that have also been doing their own deep dives into possible redistricting, district size, and ethics reforms.

The groups making their recommendations at the August 10 meeting included the LA Governance Reform Project (including public policy experts from several universities), Our LA (a coalition of grass-roots community-based activist and reform organizations), and California Common Cause (the voting rights and government transparency watchdog group).

Each group presented a set of initial recommendations, which it will continue to research and seek feedback on over the next few months.

LA Governance Reform Project

Fernando Guerra (Loyla Marymount University), Raphael Sonnenshein (Pat Brown Institute for Public Affiars and Cal State LA), Gary Segura (UCLA), and Sara Sadhwani (Pomona College) presented findings and recommendations from the LA Governance Reform Project.

This group, including public policy researchers and experts from Cal State Northridge, USC, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Loyola Marymount University, the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs, and Pepperdine University, was represented at the meeting by Gary Segura, a professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Sara Sadhwani, assistant professor of Politics at Pomona College and a former California state redistricting commissioner, Raphael Sonnenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs and a Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Cal State LA, and Fernando Guerra, Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Latina/o Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

Segura said the group’s process was funded by major philanthropy organizations (including the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, ECMC Foundation, and the California Community Foundation), and based on academically-sound research, independent recommendations, and conversations with connected stakeholders.  The group began its work in November, 2022, and released its interim report and initial recommendations on June 15 of this year.

The group’s report to the Ad Hoc Committee made recommendations in three areas:  City Council and LAUSD redistricting (including a details plan for an independent LAUSD redistricting commission separate from that for the City Council), reducing the size of City Council districts (by increasing their number and adding additional at-large representatives), and ethics reform (including increasing the powers of the city’s Ethics Commission).

The group’s more specific redistricting recommendations included:

    • Establish two independent redistricting commissions (one for the city council and one for LAUSD)
    • Require each commission to have 17 members (a number different from the number of council districts) representing different geographic areas
    • Establish more requirements for redistricting commissioners than required by state law
    • Widen the pool of people eligible to be redistricting commissioners to include most adult residents of the city
    • Address the costs of running the two commissions

To reduce the size of council districts, the group recommended:

    • Measuring the representational value of smaller districts
    • Expanding the council to include a mixed system of 21 geographic and five at large city council representatives
    • Taking a full city-budget view to funding the increased number of districts (i.e. even if more districts would cost more to staff fully, the overall percentage of the city budget would still be extremely low compared to other line items)

Finally, the group representatives said they also have recommendations for ethics reform, but those are not part of the current district size and redistricting conversation the ad hoc committee is tasked with.

With these preliminary recommendations established, the representatives said the LA Governance Reform project it is now moving into Phase 2 of its work, seeking feedback on the proposals, planning surveys and focus groups for further input, and doing more outreach to community partners.  It plans to release its final recommendations in November of this year.

Our LA

Alejandra Ponce de Leon (Catalyst California), Godfrey Plata (LA Forward), Candice Cho (AAPI Equity Alliance), Marin Villamil (CA Native Vote Project), Jeremy Payne (Catalyst California/OurLA), and Kristin Nimmers (CA Black Power Network) presented OurLA’s recommendations

The second group to present recommendations to the Ad Hoc Committee at last week’s meeting was OurLA, a coalition of grass roots activist and reform groups including AAPI Equity Alliance, Alliance for a Better Community, California Black Power Network, California Native Vote Project, Catalyst California, Community Development Technologies, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Community Coalition, Innercity Struggle, Los Angeles Community Action Network, LA Forward, and LA Voice.

This group presented the results of a community survey it conducted, showing that Black, Indiginous and other people of color do not currently feel represented by the LA City Council, want greater representation, support a truly independent redistricting commission (and think it could make a difference in their representation), support expanding the size of the city council (and are hopeful that could also increase representation), and currently lack trust in city government but have ideas for more equitable representation.

The group’s preliminary redistricting recommendations included:

    • Eliminate barriers to apply for spots on the city council redistricting commission, and all people to fully engage in the redistricting process
    • Ensure redistricting commissions reflect LA’s diverse populations, cultures, languages, regions, and socio-economic groups
    • Secure sufficient funding, resources, staffing, training, and implementation timelines at each stage of the redistricting process
    • Partner with and fund Community Based Organizations to lead educational outreach and mobilization efforts
    • Codify transparency, accountability, and values centered on equity and inclusion

And OurLA, too, made recommendations about LAUSD redistricting, including:

    • Center youth and parent/caregiver participation throughout the redistricting process
    • Ensure youth representation in decision-making

Finally, when it comes to the ideal size of the City Council, the group recommended creating between 23 and 31 single-member council districts, which it said should help to:

    • Effectively shift power and strengthen political representation of affected communities
    • Significantly minimize and prevent harm to any affected community’s political power and representation
    • Lead to structural change that eliminates systemic barriers to representation
    • Creat opportunities to center the needs and participation of affected/underrepresented communities in the city’s decision-making process(es)

Also, OurLA, too, said that it will now begin the process of taking these recommendations to their various constituencies in a series of “summer convenings” to seek further input and feedback that will inform further refinements.

California Common Cause

California Common Cause’s Alton Wang and Russia Chavis Cardenas.

Recommendations from California Common Cause, presented by representatives Alton Wang and Russia Chavis Cardenas, started with the size of the city council, including:

    • Each district should have an ideal population no greater than 150,000 residents (our current 15 districts average a bit more than 260,000 residents; other similar-sized cities have average about 143,000 residents per city council district)
    • The number of city council district should be adjusted after each decennial census to maintain the population limits in each district
    • The city’s current population would require about 26 districts at the recommended size

The group also made several recommendations regarding an independent redistricting commission saying:

    • The Commission’s stated purpose should guide its work
    • Any changes should be made to further the commission’s work
    • There should be safeguards and protections for the commission’s work
    • The appropriate size would be 14 commissioners plus two alternates (the number should not match the number of city council districts)
    • Commissioners’ terms should be 10 years (most of their work would be done in the first two years, and then they would remain available for later changes if lawsuits or other factors dictated further re-mapping during the 10-year term)
    • The commission must have the power to adopt the final district map
    • Terms should start in years ending in 8, and commissioners should be seated in years ending in 9 (ahead of the censuses that take place in years ending in 0)
    • Terms should not begin on voter approval

Also, for commissioners themselves, Common Cause recommended:

    • Candidates should meet minimum requirements, such as:
      • Be registered voters, residents for four years, and have voted in at least one city election in the last 4 years.  Demonstrate skills, impartiality, and appreciation of the city’s diversity
    • Use state election code disqualification criteria as a baseline
    • Create clear restrictions pre- and post-service
    • All ex parte communications between commissioners and any individual or organization regarding redistricting matters outside of a public meeting must be prohibited

Also, when drawing new districts, Common Cause recommended:

    • Boundaries must comply with both the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act
    • Compliance with state constitution and state law
    • Reasonably equitable population except where deviation is required
    • No protection of incumbency, candidate residence, or party
    • Other criteria (ranked by priority) include:
      • Contiguity
      • Preserve communities of interest
      • Follow natural boundaries, street lines, important physical assets
      • Not split census blocks
      • Encourage geographical compactness

For selection and removal of redistricting commissioners, the group recommended:

    • The Ethics Commission be in charge of the independent selection process
    • Commissioners be selected through a two-step process involving random selections from a pool of qualified candidates, and then having several of those randomly selected commissioners select a number of remaining commissioners based on geography, diversity, and other factors
    • Removal of commissioners should be by supermajority vote for specific causes or violations, such as violating ex parte conversation rules.

And finally, Common Cause recommended that during public meetings and outreach:

    • Documents for public education and information be available in a variety of languages
    • All meetings must be accessible
    • There must be at least 10 meetings before drawing maps, at least 15 meetings during the map-drawing process, and at least three more hearings before approving a final map.
    • Pubic comments must be accepted in person and live remotely.
    • Hearings should also be held on evenings and weekends.


After each set of preliminary recommendations was presented, Ad Hoc Committee members asked a number of clarifying questions, and commented on items they found particularly interesting or necessary.

For example, during the discussions, one of the biggest topics was the LA Governance Reform Project’s suggestion that an expanded city council include a mix of both geographic and at-large representatives.  Several committee members asked if this could actually lead to less representative government because it takes so much more money to run a citywide campaign than a district-level one, so only wealthier people might run for those seats.

The group’s representatives said, however, that recent history shows there has been a lot of diversity in candidates running for and being elected to the city’s three current citywide offices (mayor, city attorney, and controller), and that adding some at large councilmembers could help prevent the “little fiefdoms” the council has been known for in the past.

Also, they said, having a mix of geographic and at large representatives could put a larger focus on citywide issues and policymaking than there is now, could change the way councilmembers consider and build coalitions to support initiatives they’re promoting, and may allow individual land use projects, in particular, to be considered with a broader, more citywide perspective than they are now.

The ideal number of city council members was also discussed, with many members of the public (during public comments) agreeing with OurLA that a range of districts – from 23-31 – be considered at the moment, rather than any specific number at this time.

Several committee members also asked the OurLA representatives about the best ways to interest people in this process at a grass roots level, which everyone agreed will be both difficult but critical before a potential ballot measure on city council reforms goes up for a public vote (likely in November, 2024).

Finally, Common Cause’s suggestion that the number of districts change after each decennial census brought up a number of questions, including how that process would be managed in districts already represented by elected councilmembers at the time the numbers change.  But Common Cause representative Alton Wang said other cities have done this, and either shortened or lengthened council terms in various rotations to make the process both simpler and more predictable.

Next Steps

As previously noted, all of these proposals are still very preliminary, and both the presenting groups and the Ad Hoc Committee are still researching alternatives.  Firmer proposals are coming very soon though – from the office of the City’s Legislative Analyst, which has also been doing its own extensive research into the issues, at the Ad Hoc Committee’s next meeting. That session will be held on August 28, at 10 a.m. (in person in the City Council Chamber, with a simultaneous video feed via YouTube).

After the CLA’s recommendations are presented, there will be a public comment period open for several weeks, and then the committee will then further discuss and vote on the recommendations in September. The ultimate goal is to have full city council approval in time to place a ballot measure up for a vote in November, 2024.

A full video of last Thursday’s committee meeting is available here.


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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