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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The rules of ruling : charter reform in Los Angeles, 1850-2008

  • Author(s): Ingram, James Warren
  • et al.

A number of cities within the United States have been engaged in charter reform in recent years. Yet charter reform is not a new phenomenon: many cities have been engaged in this process since well before the Progressive Era. Los Angeles, for example, was involved in charter reform even before the city was granted authority to draft a home rule charter in 1888. The city has been governed by three separate charters since 1889, the last of which voters ratified in 1999. Given the frequency of charter reform in the city, the novelty of its reforms when made, and the presence of many unsuccessful reform attempts in its history, Los Angeles is an ideal typical case of charter reform. As such, Los Angeles presents the perfect opportunity for asking why this rule-making activity matters, and determining whether there are any underlying rules of the game that seem to make reform efforts more or less likely to succeed. Using a variety of quantitative and qualitative historical methods, as well as participant observation as a staffer in Los Angeles's 1996-1999 charter reform process, the author establishes a set of conditions necessary and sufficient to successful efforts at altering the rules of the game in cities. This dissertation also benefits from a comparative perspective, drawing on the author's participation as a consultant and campaign volunteer in three San Diego charter reform efforts from 1999 to 2008

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