If it takes a crisis to spark real government reform, California at least has the first part down.

At Thursday’s public hearing for the new Select Committees on Improving State Government, legislators, academics, good government types and various others all agreed that the state has big problems and that the California Legislature right now isn’t part of the solution.

Not to worry. The committee has four more meetings and a little over two months to come up with the answers that will put the Legislature on the road to reform.

It’s a serious effort, though, aimed at a serious problem. A Field Poll taken earlier this month showed that the Legislature’s approval level had plummeted to a record low 13 percent among voters and the annual – or biannual or tri-annual or … — wrangles over the state budget have Californians wondering what the heck they’re getting for the $116,208 a year they’re paying legislators.

“In terms of how we govern ourselves, this is the silliest place on Earth,” said panelist A.G. Block, a former journalist who now heads the UC Center at Sacramento. “We’re the Keystone Kops of political behavior.”

There were plenty of people willing to point fingers at the problems, most of them in a position to know what they were talking about.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, former Democratic leader of the state Senate, talked about the Legislature’s problem of finding time to devote to the most important issues.

“Two-thirds of the bills I see come out of the Assembly, if none saw the light of day, God bless it,” he said. “They’re junk and are taking up all your time … just say no.”

Bill Hauck, head of the California Business Roundtable and a former legislative staffer, compared the more collegial atmosphere of the pre-term limits Legislature with the all-out partisan wars seen today.

“Now members are sanctioned for working with the other party,’’ he said. “That’s not productive and certainly not what the people of California want.”

The usual targets took a beating: term limits, the two-thirds budget rule, lack of fiscal oversight by the Legislature and the inability for legislators to work together and compromise.

But the hearing was remarkably free of red-meat, campaign-style rhetoric designed only for the faithful on the right or the left. Republicans and Democrats on the committees turned down the heat and pushed to try and determine exactly what can be done to get the Legislature back on track.

“This is about as long as I’ve seen this many committee members in a discussion of public policy in 10 years,” marveled Bob Naylor, a former GOP Assembly leader.

Although there were plenty of suggestions about what could be done, the legislators were urged to focus first on the easy stuff, things they could do themselves.

Increasing oversight of government programs, redoing the way Assembly and state Senate committees operate, making committee staff less partisan and involving more members in budget deliberations are all reforms the Legislature could institute on its own.

They also have the virtue of dodging the expensive, partisan, take-no-prisoners ballot battles that proposals dealing with issues like term limits, taxes and the two-thirds rule are guaranteed to spawn.

“In an era when we’re not going to have tax increases, Democrats should give it up and figure out how to use the money we have more effectively,” Lockyer said.

One of the easiest ways to improve state government is to create more time for legislators to get out and talk to real people about their concerns, said Assemblyman Mark Wyland, a Solana Beach Republican.

Illustrating the need for legislators to get out more was Assemblywoman Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa, who talked about the wonders of making the budget conference committee’s meetings public this year.

“I can’t count the number of people who came up and said how important that was to them,’’ she said.

She didn’t say if any of those chats took place more than 50 feet outside the entrances to the Capitol.

The committee plans four more hearings around the state before coming up with a list of recommendation in January.

“The fixes have to come from you,” Block told the legislators. “No one will be coming to your rescue.”

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.