Time to Expand the L.A. City Council

DTLA-Many people feel that the last thing society needs is more politicians. It’s an understandable take given the mistrust in elected officials and the frequent screaming headlines of misdeeds by those entrusted with doing the public’s business.

Yet this page believes that the city of Los Angeles desperately needs more politicians. Specifically, it is time to begin a serious discussion about expanding the City Council beyond the current 15 members.

The 14th District Deserves a Robust Council Race

Los Angeles has about 4 million residents, and each council member represents approximately 250,000 people (ironically, in some elections only about 10,000 district residents vote). Council reps function as virtual kings or queens of their district and have extraordinary influence over whether projects in their territory move forward. In short, we think these individuals have too much power over too broad an area, and the size of each district puts them at too far a remove from most constituents.

Expanding the council would allow for a more representative and responsive city government. With Angelenos going to the polls one year from this week for the March 2020 primary, and the corruption scandal currently floating over Los Angeles, this is the right time to look at altering the status quo.

Los Angeles’ first City Charter, written in the late 1800s, created a nine-member council. A 15-member council went into effect in 1925. In 1930, the city had about 1.23 million residents, so although the population has more than tripled in the last nearly 90 years, the size of the governing body has remained the same.

Los Angeles has few politicians on a per-capita basis compared to some other big cities. New York City counts 51 council members for a metropolis of 8.6 million, meaning each elected official represents about 169,000 constituents. Chicago’s 2.7 million inhabitants are served by 50 aldermen — that’s about 54,000 residents per ward. Houston has a similar-sized council to Los Angeles, with 16 members (11 representing geographic districts and five at-large seats), but has a population of just 2.3 million people.

What’s the right size in L.A.? That’s hard to say at this time, but something in the range of 30-40 council members would probably be appropriate. Such a number could bring government closer to the people. It could allow for reasonable geographically organized territories instead of the huge, politically gerrymandered monstrosities that exist now. Additionally, this could facilitate the election of members of ethnic and other communities that have been under-represented in city government.

Expanding the City Council would require voter approval, and one can be certain that office holders would fight any attempt to dilute their influence. That’s where the discussion begins — how big should the council be? Should salary be reduced along with district size? What happens to office staff? Should an increase take effect four years down the line? Or eight years later so current office holders have a reason to sign on? And what about those five County Supervisors who each represent 2 million people?

Reaching consensus won’t come quickly, but the size of L.A.’s City Council should grow. It’s time to start the discussion, with the focus on people rather than power.

Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News