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Ask the Expert

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Developing the idea of county reform

Local Commentary

Posted: June 26, 2008 12:09 a.m.
Updated: August 26, 2008 5:03 a.m.
 
It is a little more than six months since I asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to convene a convention of stakeholders to discuss fundamental county government reform. During that time many have asked me what I propose.

Some 15 years ago, when I first raised the issue of California constitutional reform in the Revenue and Taxation Committee of the Los Angeles County Division of the League of California Cities, I was never asked what reform I wanted, nor did I suggest any. All I did was pass out copies of the state Constitution.

My resolution did not get through the process quickly, but it did pass with unanimous League support, and it soon had the support of the California Contract Cities Association and the Local Government Commission.

When then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed a commission to consider constitutional revision, I attended the first meeting. I asked them to think outside the box. That was all.

They did, but because their proposals would have allowed major reforms in county and local government, there was major opposition to putting them on the ballot. The public never got to vote.

I dropped the effort, believing that within 10 years of my retirement from the Santa Clarita City Council there would be major changes in government.

Now it is time to speak up. I propose major reform. That is all.

When asked what this reform might involve, I must say that it would probably mean the breakup of Los Angeles County into about seven counties, including two in the 60 percent of the area of the county north of the San Gabriel Mountains.

However, this does not mean that every aspect of county government would change. It is entirely possible that the stakeholders would want the Sheriff's Department and county Fire Department, and perhaps Public Works, to continue to serve all the counties and the many cities with which they contract services.

I believe the county clerk's office, the courts, health and welfare, and planning and zoning would fall entirely under the auspices of the newer, smaller counties.

No longer would we have to deal with the county clerk in Norwalk, or suffer from the confusion of multiple offices throughout the county that do not have access to all the records.

Health services, including clinics and county hospital services, would get the kind of local attention that should have prevented the deterioration of Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center.

Welfare, probation and other services would deal with problems at a local level.

Along what boundaries should the county be split, if that is what the stakeholders want? I would suggest watersheds as the most logical. Others might have a better idea.

Some are wondering, who are these stakeholders?

They would include representatives from county government, including employee organizations, the 88 cities including Santa Clarita, associations of government, chambers of commerce, industrial associations, homeowner and taxpayer organizations, associations of ethnic groups, developers, the League of Women Voters and other interests.

I would like to see the Board of Supervisors take charge of the process, which is likely to be a long one, to be completed sometime after the present members would have normally retired. However, once they appoint the initial stakeholders, that group should be allowed to add to their numbers and select a core committee to do much of the work.

The county and cities would be among those entities providing funding for staff to do research and polish recommendations as well as requests for any necessary legislation.

The final result should be a ballot issue that would create the new system and provide for the transition. It would be fiscally responsible and revenue neutral, devoid of racism, and so responsive to our citizens' quest for good government and county employees' desire for respect and fair treatment that there will be no doubt of passage at the polls.

Carl Boyer was chairman of the Santa Clarita City Formation Committee in 1987 and served on the City Council for three terms, as well as mayor for two terms. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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