Everyday Angelenos can govern LA better than City Council

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Los Angeles City Hall is seen on October 10, 2022. City Council has never been representative of LA. It’s too small for that, with 15 members for 4 million people, says Joe Mathews. Photo by Ted Soqui/SIPA USA.

Opinion column by Joe Mathews:

Please! Pretty please! With azúcar on top! I beg you — Kevin de León and Gilbert Cedillo — unlike now former member Nury Martinez, to ignore the calls to resign your seats on the Los Angeles City Council. Instead, I’m imploring you to stay and brazen this scandal out.

The people of Los Angeles need you, their power-hungry representatives, especially now that you seem to have signed off on your former colleague's racist insults against nearly every demographic in town.


So, they can have the pleasure of firing you themselves!

A few resignations can’t cure what ails Los Angeles and its governing body. Nor can reforming the City Council within the existing charter.

Abolition is the only real solution. 

Which means both your 12 other colleagues and your entire institution needs to go, too. Now is the moment to dissolve the LA City Council. 

Because the people of Los Angeles can do the job themselves.

The tools and the concept now exist. LA could become the first American city to replace its council with a citizens’ assembly.

Elections require big money that can compromise politicians. A citizens’ assembly, by contrast, is chosen by lottery. Los Angeles can design lottery processes to make the assembly representative of its city by race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, neighborhood, and just about any other factor we like. 

LA would be a California pioneer in this, but not a global one. Paris just established a permanent citizens’ assembly; a Belgian province also has one. Countries from Japan to Ireland have established assemblies in response to breakdowns in trust in elected officials.

By switching from an elected council to a lottery-based panel, LA would be jettisoning a broken system.

What you heard on that tape of the council members and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Ron Herrera wasn’t just four powerful people spewing hatred. You heard what a thoroughly broken system sounds like.

The Los Angeles City Council has never been representative of the city. It’s simply too small for that — with 15 members for 4 million people, LA City Council members have far too many constituents (more than 260,000 each) to represent them all properly. Global cities of similar population typically have more than 100 council members.

The City Council has always been a weak player in LA’s complex governing structure, with its many boards and commissions. It doesn’t help that this weak council exists within a weak city government: This is California, where voters have spent decades centralizing power at the state level.

Holding so little power, City Council members spend their time doing what they did on that tape — talking smack and playing games. Martinez, de León, and Cedillo were talking not about the city’s problems but their own power and how the redistricting commission was drawing their own districts. They complained about their districts not having enough “assets” — wealthy institutions that would give them money for their campaigns.

Council members not caught on tape play these games, too; that’s how they get into office in the first place. 

With a citizens’ assembly, the games stop. There will be no redistricting process because there will be no districts. There should be no racist conflict over council elections, because there wouldn’t be any council elections. 

The lottery replaces the elections. A representative sampling of the people become the legislature. Transparent, public meetings replace secretly recorded backroom discussions. And more people can participate — the assembly should have at least 200 members.

This can, and should, happen fast. Good government groups should file a charter amendment to replace the council with a citizens’ assembly right away. Citizens need to push the new mayor to hold a special election on the charter amendment as soon as possible.

Then, the people of LA will have the opportunity to live a dream, and fire their failed politicians, so they can take up the work of local democracy themselves.

By staying in office until you’re fired, Kevin and Gilbert, you can serve as inspiration for this change in governance, reminding Angelenos why we don’t need you or the system that made you — and why local democracy is one of those things that everyday people should do for themselves.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.




Chery Glaser


Darrell Satzman