Civic University in Downtown LA

Photo of Los Angeles City Hall
Program Description:
The Civic University is a non-credit certificate program covering the processes and the important functions of the Los Angeles city government. Offered by Cal State LA’s College of Professional and Global Education and Pat Brown Institute, Civic University arose from a shared belief that there are immense gaps in public knowledge and understanding of how Los Angeles city government works. As a result, constituents in many communities feel that they cannot effectively influence their own government.

The CU's mission is for constituents to have a greater impact on government by increasing their understanding of how the system is designed and actually works, thereby creating a well-informed community, so that it may become a more active one. The program not only explains the formal processes of local government (“How does a council motion become an ordinance?”), but also why things happen as they do and the important access points within local government.

Located at Cal State LA Downtown, the program operates under the supervision of Dr. Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute and author of three books on Los Angeles politics and government. Dr. Sonenshein participated in the creation of the neighborhood council system during the 1999 charter reform as executive director of the appointed charter reform commission and served as executive director of the Neighborhood Council Review Commission.

The Civic University first presents information about how local government works in Los Angeles. Even those closely involved with City Hall are often surprised to discover that there is a lot they do not know about its governance and operations. The program also explores how this power system can be influenced in order to bring about beneficial results for the community.

  • The power centers at Los Angeles City Hall (roles of Mayor, City Council, other elected officials, commissions, CAO/CLA)
  • Who has power in the community and can influence City Hall (roles of key organized groups)
  • How and why the budget process works the way it does
  • How data are developed and used at City Hall
  • The city’s election system
  • Encouraging positive, productive reform in local government; what ideas have been proposed and what are your ideas? A detailed curriculum with selected readings will be made available to participants.

Currently, admission to the Civic University is by invitation only. Individuals and agencies interested in the program should contact Raquel Beltran, Associate Director of the Pat Brown Institute, for more information.