Zurich and Los Angeles share an intriguing political distinction: each is the largest city in one of the world’s two greatest centers of direct democracy.

California and Switzerland use initiatives and referenda more often than any place in the world, and have for more than a century, when Los Angeles followed Zurich’s model and instituted the first municipal system of direct democracy in the U.S. But direct democracy has been challenged in both places.

In Los Angeles tonight, I’m moderating a free, public Zocalo Public Square event that compares the democratic structures of LA and Zurich, and of California and Switzerland. My hope is that the comparison may give us some ideas about how to make democracy in California, and in LA, work better.

The panel includes two visiting Swiss citizens – Andreas Gross, a member of Parliament (representing Zurich) and the socialist leader in the Council of Europe who has worked on direct democracy issues for 30 years; and Bruno Kaufmann, a Swiss-Swede citizen who runs the Initiative & Referendum Institute Europe.

Representing LA in the discuss will be business leader and lawyer George Kieffer, who led the LA charter reform effort a a decade ago; and Kathay Feng of Common Cause, a key player in Prop 11.