15 Candles - 96 Points of Light
15 CANDLES, 96 POINTS OF LIGHT--In his farewell address last night, President Obama called on American citizens to take concrete steps to create positive change - to be action-oriented, engaged, and to get offline and talk to one another. Luke Klipp, president of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and recent winner of Streetsblog LA's 2016 Deborah Murphy Award for Excellence in Advocacy (named after our very own founder), explains how you can get to work right in your own neighborhood.
“Neighborhood Councils are the place where good ideas go to die.” That was me a few years ago, reflecting on frustrations serving on a neighborhood council that, at the time, was more interested in preserving parking spaces than in creating human spaces.
While neighborhood councils were created 15 years ago to better connect residents with their city government, oftentimes it can feel like they just stand in the way of progress. That said, I have since come to recognize the opportunities that these groups represent, and the ways in which people who care about walkability, bikeability, and street safety in their communities can create change on a micro-scale, albeit an important one, through their neighborhood councils.
Many neighborhood councils – though certainly not all – are ambivalent about or openly oppose the things that folks at Los Angeles Walks support: things like more and better-marked crosswalks, more stop signs, and slower street speeds. However, this is neither always the case, nor is it a done deal. As the strongest and clearest link to the constituents they serve, neighborhood councils are more responsive to citizen involvement than any other City function or body.
This brings me to why I’m writing this post and why you should care. In just my few years as an elected member of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, I’ve seen a sea change in our council’s approach to street safety measures and support for efforts to improve walkability and bikeability, as people who care about these things have shown up, spoken up, and gotten involved.
At a time when much of our world – at least nationally – has been turned upside down, local involvement is one of the best-available tools that we have to effect change.
I guarantee you that, while your neighborhood council may or may not be responsive to your concerns in the moment, if you stay involved, if you keep showing up, if you join a committee and/or run for a seat – you will effect change through your neighborhood council. You will get the marked crosswalk that your busy street needs. You will get your city councilmember to support new street tree plantings. You will get improved DASH service, or better public spaces, or new bike lanes.
But it takes time, it takes persistence, and it takes showing up. As someone who has sat through innumerable meetings hearing the same complaints about how there’s too much traffic and not enough parking; I can assure you that that voice of reason, the voice you can bring to the neighborhood council that says we must do better by our kids and our seniors and our businesses by improving our sidewalks and street trees and crosswalks – that is the voice that is so often missing and so often needed.
It’s a new year, and we need you more than ever. There’s never been a better time to get involved in your community, and your neighborhood council is a great place to start.
15 CANDLES, 96 POINTS OF LIGHT- (Editor’s Note: This month marks the 15th anniversary of the certification of Los Angeles’ first Neighborhood Council. CityWatch is celebrating with a multi-month celebration of introspective articles and view points on how LA’s Neighborhood Councils came about, how they’re doing and how their future looks. This perspective by Anastasia Mann is such an effort.)
When I first read about the concept of Neighborhood Councils in the Los Angeles Times some 15 years ago, my first thought was "finally.”
In my heart I knew that this idea was likely a direct result of the fervor for secession by the movements in Hollywood, The Valley and San Pedro. I was a secessionist.
The reason these attempts at secession were defeated is because the entire voting populous of the city was able to vote. Had only the actual communities in question been voting separately, as in elections for city council representatives, etc., it's more likely the splits would have prevailed.
(The passion for secession was born because the "city fathers" were only focused on Downtown. That still remains as issue for some today.)
So the NCs were born to give the “stakeholders" in each geographical area more input into local government. More "say so.”
I first served as Area 5 (Outpost) chair to Hollywood Hills West NC. The following year I was elected president, taking the reins from founder and first president, Dan Bernstein. Dan did the hard work. He had it rough. A bit of an unruly board in a system governed by a new city department barely getting its feet wet: The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, aka: DONE.
Our board has 23 elected representatives, which includes nine area chairs and ten issue committees, and five officers on the executive committee. We are the largest geographical NC among the 96 in the Greater LA Area.
The get-go was slow -- not for lack of interest, but due to lack of training, direction and publicity via the city. And of course the continuous creation and application of rules that made no sense. A bit like kindergarten. An NC member across the opposite end of the city gets his hand in the "funding" cookie jar, then all us kids have to face the wall. Very frustrating. Trying to fund projects is like jumping through hoops on fire with the lion.
But the good news is that we have indeed come a long way. The system is still riddled with red tape and an excessive number of rules which can be baffling, but today we are actually getting things done. Very good things. HHWNC has one of the finest boards that I have had the pleasure of overseeing in my entire 12 year experience. The resumes of our board members threaten any Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton could muster.
From at one time having zero stakeholders attending our monthly meetings, we now have numbers ranging from 25+ into the hundreds. Yes. Hundreds.
We've been blessed to have the cooperation and support over all these years from CD4, under both Tom LaBonge and David Ryu. Also from the deputies for CD13 and previously CD5. Moreover, we now have active participation from our State Assembly members for AD 46 and 50.
We work closely with LAPD, LAFD and even DWP. We help to get streets repaired, city services improved, support schools, LAPD and Fire Department programs, our library, theatre arts projects.....and play a major role in planning and land use issues, particularly when it comes to density and major developments within our congested boundaries. We've had to battle controversies that include protecting Runyon Canyon from commercialization to controlling the out-of-control situation with the Mini Tour bus issues. We listen to developers as well as those opposed to them.
We ask questions, request Improvements, meet over and over again until we can find consensus. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But our rate of cooperation is very high. In certain limited cases we cannot beat City Hall, but that's another story. We try to protect historical heritage sites as well.
Current issues facing and frustrating all our communities include homelessness, traffic, more traffic, party houses, the impacts from Hollywood Blvd on the adjacent residential units, crime (of course,) and more tour bus problems...on and on.
But we are planting trees in Runyon Canyon, protecting the off leash dog privileges by keeping it a wilderness area and not a sports venue, getting pot holes and street lighting fixed, advising our city council reps on the quality of life issues facing our stakeholders. Every day there seems to be a new issue.
Our board members each hold their own meetings to bring every imaginable issue to the full board table. That's four to 20 meetings per month! There are hundreds of hours being devoted to our communities every month. Most of the time, these volunteers go unnoticed and under-appreciated. The entire NC system and existence is still a mystery to most Angelenos. This must change.
Unless the media gets behind what we do and gets the word out, the system may be doomed. The public must demand that we keep these volunteer voices active, loud and clear. Many members of the media have stepped up to the plate, like CityWatch; and KNBC with the Tour Bus Coverage; the LA Times with the 8150 Sunset "Gehry" project and Runyon Canyon; and the Beverly Press. They all have an interest in what we do.
But our own story about what we do -- how and why -- still needs to be told. We should have everyone -- resident, business owner and employee, property owner or renter, club member and worshipper signed up as stakeholders within every single one of the 96 NC's. Numbers talk.
We hear rumors that some city officials would love to eliminate the NC system. DONE (now Empower LA) is understaffed and overwhelmed. HHWNC is fortunate to have support from our Council District. But many NCs do not enjoy this sentiment; rather, they are faced with the opposite.
The more everyone gets involved the better future for us all. Because, frankly, we are all in this together.
(Anastasia Mann is president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
GELFAND’S WORLD--(Editor’s Note: This month marks the 15th anniversary of the certification of Los Angeles’ first Neighborhood Council. CityWatch is celebrating with a multi-month celebration of introspective articles and view points on how LA’s Neighborhood Councils came about, how they’re doing and how their future looks. This perspective by Bob Gelfand is just such an effort.)
Setting: The Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, Dec. 6, 2016, celebrating the completion of 15 years of the neighborhood council system. A recess from the official meeting allowed some of us old timers to be interviewed on camera by a city official.
The interviewer said, "It doesn't have to be anything long. Three or four sentences would be fine." I tried. A few words came out. I asked for another take. Still not the story. I tried one more time and posterity will have to be content with my stumbling. It's just too much of a history to tell in 3 sentences or even 3000. So let me ask the cameraman to forgive me. Given time to think, I offer you a few basic themes that have emerged slowly from 2001 to the present. The first theme is borrowed from a Supreme Court justice's comment that the essence of the law lies in experience, not theory. Like Constitutional law, the essence of our neighborhood council story is based on experience, not just the wording of the city's Charter.
In the absence of clear and adequate legal principles, we have to build and learn from experience. The original discovery by so many of us founders was that the city's Charter language establishing the neighborhood council system is ambiguous. The Charter language isn't even clear as to whether a neighborhood council consists of all the thousands of people within a district or is just the elected board. Note that city government has a defined structure. We have a City Council of precisely 15 people. For neighborhood councils, the language of the law refers to stakeholders, and they include all the people within the district and then some.
This ambiguity can have serious consequences when it comes to real world functioning. For example, City Council members and city departments tend to invite a few neighborhood council presidents to small meetings, which misses the point of the whole invention of neighborhood councils.
These issues didn't slow us down. As long as the city government was willing to ignore the ambiguities, we made the attempt to work within their induced confusion.
There are other ambiguities which I've mentioned before -- for example the insistence that a neighborhood council must be diverse, yet must also be as independent as possible. This isn't as trivial as it sounds. At the December, 2001 meeting in which neighborhood councils were first officially certified, our founding president was asked to explain how we would achieve diversity. Considering that we had chosen to have our board members selected by a community wide election, it was hard to guarantee any such thing. Perhaps the commissioners recognized that they were walking into an ambiguity trap and backed off. Somehow, we got through the questioning and became official.
Six weeks later, in February of 2002, we held our first board election and commenced to operate as the people's ears and mouth. It was a first for the City of Los Angeles, but it has been repeated across the city thousands of times since.
The curious finding after all these years is that the ambiguity of the Charter language wasn't as much of a hindrance as it threatened to be. Somehow our council survived and along with many others, thrived. That should have been my first comment to the cameraman, even if it can't be expressed adequately in a single sentence.
The next lesson is that everyone comes to the process with a different vision. The Charter language is like some sort of alphanumeric ink blot test. It has allowed thousands of people to read their own visions into building their councils in dozens, maybe hundreds of different ways. Not only is a neighborhood council put together out of competing visions, the primary vision that coalesces at one point will evolve into a different vision at another.
In our early years, we were concerned with how our immediate neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles, treats our community. We made it our objective to push for reduced air pollution coming from the port's activities, as the port is responsible for a significant fraction of all diesel derived pollutants in the LA basin. Over these 15 years, the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have reduced their contribution to the region's air pollution substantially. This is not something that is attributable to the neighborhood councils by themselves, but we played a role in the political environment, making sure that our elected officials understood that air quality is a priority to our residents. The harbor area neighborhood councils became a part of the civic conversation. More than that, they provided a nucleus for people to get involved in the process.
Even as some of us thought about human environmental effects, some were involved with the region's economic health. Others (such as myself) were involved in supporting the cultural attributes of our extended neighborhoods. In San Pedro, several neighborhood councils have lobbied for city protection of a classic movie theater and other historic structures. We found that we are not alone. We notice that the people of Fullerton have been carrying on a preservation and restoration campaign for their own historic movie theater.
As an aside, let me point out that a few historic theaters have been preserved, among them the Egyptian in Hollywood, the Fox in Fullerton, and the Warner Grand in San Pedro, whereas many other old time movie houses have either fallen into disrepair or been demolished. The spirit of the neighborhood council is to preserve structures and traditions that are central to the spirit of a community, even when doing so runs against the tide of local economics. This is a form of preservationism in its own right, an attempt to conserve specific things that would leave us culturally poorer by their loss.
That might have been my second thought, the realization that protection of the classical urban structure is worth doing. In this, the neighborhood councils have joined a movement originally developed by organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Hollywood Heritage, and are just a little bit removed from those who have preserved our national parks going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln.
Given the chance to express just three thoughts, I would insist on spending my last thought on the flip side of the experiential coin -- the incessant internal competition within individual neighborhood councils and among adjacent neighborhood councils. Some refer to it as squabbling or bickering. Some critics point to the often excessive level of debate on more or less mundane issues. Some think of our propensity to verbiage as some kind of affliction of the ego. I think that those who insist on this view are, in their own way, rediscovering Ecclesiastes: All is vanity. The only difference is that our modern day critics are protesting that which the prophet viewed as eternal.
Can we be trapped in our own vanity and destined to nothingness, as the prophet says, and still make things better in this, our own time and our own place? It's a decent question, but it applies to most things in life. If nothing else, our first one and a half decades have been quite the experience.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
15 CANDLES, 96 POINTS OF LIGHT--(Editor’s Note: This month marks the 15th anniversary of the certification of Los Angeles’ first Neighborhood Council. CityWatch is celebrating with a multi-month celebration of introspective articles and view points on how LA’s Neighborhood Councils came about, how they’re doing and how their future looks. This perspective by Doug Epperhart is such an effort.)
The first of Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils -- Wilmington and Coastal San Pedro -- recently marked 15 years since they were certified by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. This is the third CityWatch column I’ve written commemorating that anniversary. I looked back to see what I said in 2006 and 2011 as a sort of measuring stick plotting the progress of our local experiment in grassroots democracy.
Ten years ago, I wrote, “Institutions, like children, need time to grow and mature. Whether the neighborhood councils are merely angels with dirty faces or little devils depends on your point of view.”
Five years ago, it was, “Love them or hate them, neighborhood councils are here to stay.”
It seems the councils turned out to be mostly well-behaved, if sometimes difficult, teenagers.
At the beginning, the city’s fledging neighborhood empowerment bureaucracy focused too much on its own internal issues -- especially on how to prepare for certifying and serving the anticipated hundred or so councils. Too little attention was given to assisting those working to organize the councils. For instance, a sample set of bylaws would have been a great help. Some training in dealing with the bureaucratic process would have gone a long way in reducing volunteers’ frustrations.
Back then, I recall telling more than one politician the councils didn’t need project coordinators to show up at meetings and read announcements; they needed clerks to fill out paperwork. Many councils still struggle with the intricacies of bureaucratic process.
This was exacerbated by the money showered on councils after they had been around for only a year. The original $50,000 stipend was too much, too soon. Many councils tried saving the money which led to a “use it or lose it” rule requiring groups to spend the funds or see them taken back at the end of the fiscal year. Clearly, NC volunteers didn’t understand the culture of government.
And, as any neighborhood council treasurer can tell you, the process by which funds are allocated to, and spent by, councils has been an ongoing nightmare. About the only difference now is you wake up a little sooner.
Perhaps the greatest challenge was, and still is, the issue of defining each councils’ stakeholders. The charter language of “live, work, own property” is fairly straightforward. But, what is a “community interest” stakeholder? Originally, it was up to each council to decide if it would include these stakeholders and, if it did, define the criteria for participation as board members and stakeholders. Five years in, the neighborhood council review commission recommended, and the city council agreed, to require that all councils include this “other” category.
Democratic governments derive their authority from the just consent of the governed. Usually, the “body politic” is defined as those who reside within the entity’s jurisdiction. Not so for neighborhood councils. Their universe of stakeholders is potentially infinite. At election time, this creates no end of complications for councils. More than anything else, stakeholder definition continues to be a problem for the neighborhood council system.
The greatest benefit of neighborhood councils is the development of a cadre of passionate and informed community activists. Over the last 15 years, thousands have served on neighborhood council boards and committees. They’ve learned about the idiosyncrasies of their city government and its minions. For many, the experience left them disillusioned. But, many more remain engaged, serving their neighbors and working to improve their communities. Some have now entered City Hall as appointed and elected officials.
Neighborhood councils were born in the midst of the secession movement as an experiment in grassroots democracy. Fifteen years later, those roots have taken hold and continue to thrive.
(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
DEEGAN ON LA—(Editor’s Note: This month marks the 15th anniversary of the certification of Los Angeles’ first Neighborhood Council. CityWatch will celebrate with a multi-month celebration of introspective articles and view points on how LA’s Neighborhood Councils came about, how they’re doing and how their future looks. This perspective by Tim Deegan is the first such effort.)
“Secession”… a word that struck fear into the political heartbeat at City Hall fifteen years ago when the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, and the Harbor area attempted to break away from the city claiming they were getting poor service from a city that they believed was poorly managed.
Now, history appears to be repeating itself with the news that Venice, famous for its boundary-pushing beach vibe and lifestyle, with a boardwalk that is a tourist mecca ripe for gentrification, wants to leave the city. They’re calling it “Vexit.”
“The wedge issue right now,” according to Venice Neighborhood Council Chair Ira Koslow, “is that what the city is choosing to do is not what people want to have done. We don’t have a say.” As an example, Koslow points out that, “Nobody was asked about a homeless plan by Councilmember Mike Bonin (CD11) that would put housing for the homeless in the Thatcher Yard, and a storage facility for the homeless across from Westminster Elementary school, as well as including a large chunk of public property in the BID process so it could be finalized. People are freaked out about Bonin’s plans. He needs to put us in the loop. We don’t feel like we’re being listened to at all.”
Bonin’s office countered, “The size and type of housing in each proposal will be determined following the community input process that Mike has insisted the developers conduct.” The location of the housing and storage -- which is the community’s complaint (not the size and type of housing, especially their complaint about the storage facility for the homeless being across from an elementary school) -- does not sound negotiable.
Several documents from Bonin’s office, including an Online Survey from December 2015, a March 29, 2016 Community Meeting where “first elements of the plan were introduced,” and a Second Community Meeting (September 8, 2016) provide another side of the story, but they may not be seen as solutions. As recently as six weeks ago, the community dispute was headline news in the LA Times.
The feeling of being shut out, Koslow claims, is the opposite of the political engagement that Neighborhood Councils were designed to foster. It sounds like what the Valley, Hollywood and the Harbor were saying fifteen years ago before Neighborhood Councils were created to help give communities a voice.
That “Vexit” is even being mentioned is a huge step backward for a city that has nurtured a Neighborhood Council plan to bring communities into the decision making process.
NPR reported in an April 29, 2002 broadcast that, “Close to half the city's voters support secession ... three areas of the city, Hollywood, the Harbor area and the San Fernando Valley, consider breaking away, and it might actually happen.”
Fearing the loss of a huge tax base, the city stepped in and fought back, avoiding seccession. Polls at the time suggested strong support for secession. Combined, the Harbor, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley represented about half the population of the city. The Valley itself, with 1.5 million residents, would have become the nation’s sixth largest city at the time.
Once the secession vote failed -- but because it was attempted -- Charter reform eventually led to a system of Neighborhood Councils with an important mandate. As stated in the LA City Charter, Section 900: “Purpose of Neighborhood Councils: To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.”
Homeowner associations had always been the “go-to” community groups and still play a very important role, although they may exist in a NIMBY bubble, shrinking their influence when they are seen as being more interested in the property values within their HOA boundaries than in the community-at-large, which is the greater territory that a Neighborhood Council covers. The NCs fit somewhere between the HOAs and the City Councilmembers; they have an officially recognized “advisory” role to city departments and the Mayor.
Like previous secession movements, “Vexit” would require a “yes” vote by both Venice residents and the rest of the city. Remembering how fiercely the city fought back against the Valley and Hollywood successions, it looks like Venice secession would be an uphill struggle. However, in today’s political environment, where anything can happen, the idea of a “Vexit” cannot be dismissed. Losing Venice would put a dent into the city’s tax base that is used to fund programs; it would result in a loss of lots of political power.
In the 2002 referendum, a bare simple majority (50.72%) of Valley residents voted to succeed, but the city vote was two-thirds (66.97%) against it. In Hollywood, the spread was even wider: one-third of Hollywood voters said “yes’ to leaving, but three-quarters of the city voters said “no.”
Fifteen years later, secession is again in the air. Whether or not “Vexit” happens this time around, the community is organized locally through its neighborhood council, and regionally through its membership in the Westside Region Alliance of Councils, a cooperative regional alliance made up of 10 Neighborhood and Community Councils. This represents a great leap forward from the Valley and Hollywood and Harbor movements.
The eleven candidates (including incumbent Bonin) who have filed their intentions to run for the CD11 seat in the March 2017 primary could hit a nerve with voters by pledging to help fulfill the City Charter backed Neighborhood Council mission, “To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.”
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
REPRESENTATION RE-BOOT-I have said this before and Tony Butka has said it again recently, but I will now try it again: today’s Neighborhood Councils are “leaders” who are leading the NCs in the wrong direction.
Neighborhood Councils have lost sight of who they really are. Each NC is supposed to consider the local and city-wide concerns of everyone in that community.
I usually agree with Bob Gelfand but this time his suggestion requires an opposing response. Bob knows that the original idea of NC representation was to include all the “stakeholders” concerned with each NC. The words "live, work or owns property" were put into the Charter to make each NC represent all the people in their communities. To “live, work or own property” means to allow non-residents (those who work or own property in an NC) to participate in all of the NCs they choose. I would even extend that privilege to non-residents who just find a given NC worth their interest. That is about as far as the concept of "inclusivity" can be extended.
Personally, I have served on the boards of two NCs where I did not live, in addition to my “home” NC. I was interested in and worked on the local and the city-wide issues of all three councils. I tried to be the "poster-child" for the non-resident NC Stakeholder.
NCs are not home owner associations -- although they often act like them.
In most Neighborhood Councils, homeowners make up the majority of active stakeholders and board members. Their challenge is to invite and engage the interest and participation of renters, local (non-resident) property owners and local business owners and employees. Our 100 NCs have never been active or successful at "outreach" to these non-homeowners. All "outreach" attempts have failed to produce any meaningful "reach back."
Bob Gelfand proposed and others have argued that the NCs’ stakeholders should be limited to the voters in their neighborhoods so as to have a closer relationship with their respective City Council members. That would require a Charter change in which NC participation would be restricted to residents only. That would not create better relations between the NCs and their respective City Council members.
An alternative way to make the NC neighborhoods align with their City Council members is to change the boundaries of the City Council Districts to match the boundaries of the NCs.
However, the 2012 Redistricting Process showed that the City Council (led by Herb Wesson) did not want NCs to be geographically contained within specific City Council Districts. The Redistricting Commission was presented, and presumably considered, a proposal that would have rearranged the Council Districts in such a way that only a few NCs shared more than one City Council member.
The Winnetka NC wanted to be in both CD3 and CD12. The Redistricting Commission (headed by Herb Wesson’s senior staff member, Andrew Matthews) ended up setting City Council boundaries that denied the suggestions of most NCs, putting over 40 of them in two, three and, even, four different City Council Districts. The most flagrant examples of that are: Koreatown which, in spite of its strong request to be in one City Council District, ended up having to deal with four City Council Members.
Also, Tom LaBonge’s CD4 was gerrymandered to include the Larchmont Area, enough of the Los Feliz area to include Tom’s beloved Griffith Park and the Toluca Lake Area (which, coincidentally, is Andrew Matthews “home” NC.) West Hills NC which traditionally, emotionally and demographically was in Council District 3 (the Southwest San Fernando Valley) ended up in the dramatically different Council District 12 (the Northwest San Fernando Valley.)
When the NCs address and act on these concerns, they will begin to realize the original vision of the 1998 Charter Reform. Most importantly, they will begin to truly represent all the people who are interested in their communities.
(Daniel Wiseman, M.D., is a long-time Neighborhood activist and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
SKID ROW-There is talk throughout Skid Row about the anticipated creation of a neighborhood council in an area commonly known as “the homeless capitol of America.” As the Skid Row NC- Formation Committee continues to reach out to fellow stakeholders and field questions, there is a growing concern about whether the City of LA’s NC certification process will actually support this much-needed governing body.
Presently, Skid Row is part of the Downtown Los Angeles NC and has been since DLANC’s inception in 2002. Unfortunately, while the rest of Downtown has benefited greatly from a frenzied revitalization effort (Including Downtown City Council rep Jose Huizar’s “Bringing Back Broadway”) which is also embraced by the DLANC, Skid Row has suffered greatly as homelessness has expanded across the city during the 14-year existence of the DLANC.
Because Skid Row is already part of an existing NC, a “subdivision” vote including all DLANC stakeholders, will determine whether Skid Row is “allowed” to separate and form its own NC.
What happens if Skid Row’s NC efforts are voted down?
Is a lawsuit the next step? Where’s Skid Row’s evidence to present in court?
A governing document for Neighborhood Councils, “Plan for a Citywide System of Neighborhood Councils,” is used by DONE, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (also known as EmpowerLA) to oversee each of the current 96 NCs. Under Goals and Objectives, it states in #4: “Ensure equal opportunity to form NC’s and participate in the governmental decision making and problem solving processes.” In #5 it is stated, “Create an environment in which all people can organize and propose their own Certified NC so they develop from the grassroots of the community.”
Further, in Article II, under Desired Characteristics of NC, it says in #2, “Certified NC’s…may not discriminate in any of their policies, recommendations or actions against any group on the basis of race, religion, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status, income or political affiliation.”
Now, if all the above “evidence” is truly the case, why should Skid Row be subjected to a subdivision vote where they are at the mercy of all DLANC stakeholders, the majority of whom have never stepped foot in Skid Row? How can they be well-versed enough to partake in such a significant vote that will have such a huge effect on the lives of Skid Row’s residents and stakeholders?
This week, at the DLANC Planning Committee meeting, a strong turnout of residents who mostly live in South Park and the Historic Core are expected to attend to oppose two different proposed brand-new construction projects creating low-income residential housing buildings in Skid Row that are needed to alleviate the overwhelming lack of homeless housing. Yet, in the same breath, these very same folks want the City of LA to put an end to all the homeless tents and encampments. It can’t be both.
Obviously, the best way to get rid of tents and encampments is to create more housing, which is exactly what these new housing projects intend to do. But it’s this continuous back and forth confusion that has created a perplexing stagnation making it virtually impossible to put a significant dent in the massive homeless numbers, let alone “end homelessness” altogether. It’s well-documented that the DLANC only listens to their most affluent constituents regarding new housing construction in DTLA. The City of Los Angeles must intervene before homelessness thwarts LA’s own 2024 Summer Olympics hopes.
Knowing what we know about DLANC and the selfish desires of a handful of “Downtown’s inner circle” who want to control all of DTLA forever -- even to the point where homelessness has expanded into more populated areas across the city -- should Skid Row be subjected to a subdivision vote led by these insensitive “down-lookers”?
Shouldn’t the City of Los Angeles create an “alternative process option” which would ensure the Skid Row community will have an “equal opportunity” to create its own NC?
And YES, there’s much more evidence to present in a court of law.
For the City of LA not to adhere to the “Plan for a Citywide System of NC’s” document is to violate the Los Angeles City Charter and Administrative Code, specifically Article IX-Department of Neighborhood Empowerment-Sections 900-914.
This “Plan” document was first approved and adopted into the City Charter in May, 2001 and has been amended nine times, the latest being in December, 2013. In addition, Section 1, Division 22, Chapter 28, Subsections 22.800-22.814 of the Administrative Code should be examined. That’s all that can be said publicly at this time.
Skid Row community leaders are indeed prepared to file a lawsuit. Fourteen years under DLANC’s control and not one Community Impact Statement (CIS) concerning Skid Row has been officially filed by the DLANC stating its collective position on matters related to Skid Row and homelessness. Is this because they don’t want to be exposed?
The City Council passed the City’s “Comprehensive Homeless Strategic Plan” in January of this year and the DLANC was silent. Also, a “State of Emergency” declaration regarding homelessness was publicly discussed on separate occasions by both Mayor Garcetti and the LA City Council. Again, DLANC remained silent. Surely, a Skid Row NC would have submitted a CIS form because the previously mentioned topics speak directly to what is hands-down Skid Row’s priority issue – homelessness. Most importantly, the solutions that come out of Skid Row from its own NC could also be examples of what should be done across the whole City.
But can Skid Row afford to wait another fourteen years for the DLANC to finally act? Or should the City of LA work to bypass a DLANC stakeholder subdivision vote and willingly accommodate a Skid Row NC request to certify?
This is a life or death situation for the Skid Row community – one that requires immediate action on behalf of the City of Los Angeles.
Skid Row ‘bout ta get lawyered up ya’ll!
(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
MY TURN--One of the most successful parts of the Neighborhood Council System is the work done by its "Budget Advocates." Briefly, each of the 96 Neighborhood Councils is supposed to appoint a Budget Representative. They in turn elect three representatives from each region and these thirty-six brave souls spend the better part of the year working on recommendations for the Mayor's Budget. In the last five years, the Budget Advocates have recommended more than 150 suggestions of which more than a third have been adopted; a third are still up for discussion; and the final third has disappeared to the “black hole.”
Last Saturday, more than 160 of these representatives spent most of the Budget Advocate
Day at City Hall listening to LA City Controller Ron Galperin and CAO Miguel Santana discuss the City budget – what monies are coming in…and what’s going out for fiscal year 2017-2018.
This subject (a weighty one for a Saturday morning), was covered in an intensive program that also included the State of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) address delivered by General Manager Grayce Liu. The keynote address was given by City Council President Herb Wesson and there were presentations of the pros and cons concerning two of the City bond issues appearing on the November 8 ballot. City Council Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian also spoke to the group.
The audience was treated to a jocular Herb Wesson who told them how valuable they were to both the City and to him personally. He had changed the jurisdiction over Neighborhood Councils away from the previously inactive Education committee and placed it with his Rules Committee. He talked about the progress he had made with the NCs, including giving them more time to address the Council and increasing their funding.
He also said that, starting in January 2017, the finances and funding for the NCs would move to the City Clerk's office. Handling the finances for ninety-six individual NCs has caused a real bottleneck; sometimes people are so concerned about failing that they don't try anything new, said Wesson. He thinks that the NC is a great system but must receive constantly updating. (See my July 21, 2016 article in CityWatch.)
Getting the funding increased to where it was in 2009 is another item on Wesson’s list, although he did manage to get an additional $5000 added to each NC’s budget last year. (This is the subject for a future article.) NCs should develop a template for how to spend their funding given that many of them finished last year with funds left over. Currently there is no rollover, so what isn't spent goes back to the City’s General Fund.
Many of this year’s budget representatives are new to the city budget process. I have now been to five of these Budget Advocate days and I’m at least aware of what all of it means. Some of the newbies have a real education in front of them.
Miguel Santana broke down the $8,776,961,274 budget, making it a little easier to understand.
As an example, let's use one dollar and see how it is divided:
43.2 Community Safety
29.1 Home &Community Environment
6.7 Cultural, Educational and Recreational Services
2.4 Human Resources, Economic Assistance and Development
7.5 General Administration and Support
If you are interested in seeing how these categories break down you can find them on the CAO website.
CAO Santana has been in that position for seven years. He talked about the budget being a "declaration of principles and values." Priorities are restoring funds to the Fire Department and getting new equipment. The City is hiring more than 200 additional firefighters. Getting civilians to man the administrative departments for the Police will allow more uniformed police to be on the streets and become more engaged in the various communities. Public safety spending is the largest allocation from the budget.
Los Angeles has a huge homeless problem and the cost just to maintain that particular group never ends. Santana said that running the government is an ongoing process that never stops.
One of the really neat things that Controller Ron Galperin has accomplished is his "LA Portal" website. Go to www.lacontroller.org and you can explore your neighborhood and streets with interactive maps of City properties, crime stats, street paving and more. You can also see every check written by the City and how it is allocated -- along with why we spend ten million dollars for gloves.
Ron Galperin started his political life as an NC Budget Advocate and the rest is history. LA has won awards for its transparent financial disclosures. Galperin sets the transparency bar high; the majority of our "electeds" are not even close. Not only that, but he is always accessible and really enjoys the interaction with his constituents. He also listens...an unusual attribute for a politician.
I really miss our former Deputy Mayor in charge of Budget and Innovation, Rick Cole. The City of Santa Monica is most fortunate to have him as its General Manager. He used to attend Budget Advocate Days, actually staying on to visit during the regional breakout sessions. I saw no one from the Mayor's office there on Saturday.
Each year, the Budget Advocates put together a "White Paper" to present to the Mayor, the City Council and to the Budget and Finance Committee. They only had one meeting with the Mayor this year.
Councilmember Krekorian also lauded the BA group for their participation and invaluable help. He reminded them that in 2010, there was a billion dollar budget deficit that caused 15% cuts almost across the Board; this was because the City Charter calls for a balanced budget. Today, LA has the largest reserve in its history. A former once LA Mayor predicted that LA would be broke in three years. Instead, its credit rating has gone up in the last four years, as has economic activity. In the last three years, LA has spent $30 million for sidewalk repairs and has generated 15,000 youth summer jobs.
According to outgoing BA Chair, Terrence Gomes, President of the Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (LAANC,) the Budget Advocates interview each City Department Manager, talk to their stakeholders, have regular meetings and take into consideration the needs of their neighborhoods. Los Angeles is vast in geography, diversity and economics. The BAs make an effort to include all points of view since, for example, the Harbor area has different challenges than, say, the Northern San Fernando Valley.
Representative Pauletta Tonilas from LA Metro gave a nuts and bolts presentation as to why it was very important to pass a half-cent tax for LA Metro expansion. Budget Advocate and CityWatch columnist Jack Humphreville gave equally compelling reasons why it should be defeated.
Councilman Jose Huizar's Policy Director, Martin Schlageter, discussed the benefits the Homeless Bond would provide. Jay Handal, well known community activist and incoming Co-Chair of the Budget Advocates for 2017/2018, talked about a more effective way to finance and resolve LA's homelessness crisis.
We will be examining all the pros and cons in CityWatch over the next couple of months of both of these Bond issues and other items on the ballot.
BA Co-chairs Terrence Gomes and Liz Amsted organized and executed an information-packed day. Ms. Amsden was re-elected co-chair of the Budget Advocates for next year, along with Jay Handal who held the position previously. One has to remember that these BAs, even though elected by their peers and neighborhoods, do not get paid and are lucky if they can even park for free at City Hall for meetings.
I visited several of the regional breakout rooms and saw that it was a very good example of democracy in action. After the last two weeks of our Presidential campaign, I felt a sense of comfort that, at least here -- where the tire hits the pavement – we’re doing a good job.
As always comments welcome.
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)
GELFAND’S WORLD--A recent CityWatch article by James Preston Allen has generated considerable controversy and no little excitement. Allen's article is presented as an open letter to LA City Council President Herb Wesson, and deals with the relationship between LA government and its neighborhood council system. In particular, Mr Allen is critical of the way that neighborhood council governing board members were elected down here in the harbor area a few weeks ago.
Well, I have to agree with James that the voting process was a mess. We might remember that the original concept of the neighborhood council was a gathering of neighbors to discuss their mutual concerns. The original definition for eligibility was to live, work, or own property within your neighborhood council district. It was an attempt to bring in everyone who has a true stake in the community, and to prevent organized groups of outsiders from taking over.
Unfortunately, the city has changed the rules with frightening regularity, expanding the definition of eligible voter (aka stakeholder) one year, then pulling back a couple of years later. This year, the city decided that anyone claiming to be a member of a Facebook organization would be eligible to vote in neighborhood council elections. The idea seems absurd on its face, but there it is.
There was some kind of theoretical limitation. Supposedly, the Facebook groups had to operate within the neighborhood council's district. But in practice, this was meaningless. All you had to do was pick up an identification card from one of the participating groups, and you were free to go. The result in my neighborhood council was that we had opposing groups setting up shop right down the block from the polling place. They were handing out membership cards to everyone who asked.
Then the insta-voters were allowed to cast ballots in our election. Yes, I can see why James Allen wants a review of the system.
Where I differ with James is in his proposed remedies. I suspect our differences stem from our differing perspectives. I therefore would like to consider the James Allen proposals according to my own experience.
To begin with a point of clarification, let me explain that DONE is the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees the neighborhood council system in Los Angeles. the DONE election manual that James mentions (below) refers to the set of rules created by DONE for carrying out neighborhood council elections.
Here are the three main proposals in Allen's article, as addressed to the President of the Los Angeles City Council:
What I ask of you, President Wesson, are these:
- To empanel a commission of 15 former neighborhood council presidents based upon their seniority and experience, chosen by you and not the local council office, to review and reform the DONE election manual.
- To empanel a commission formed at the next Congress of Neighborhood Empowerment to draft a Citizen’s Bill of Rights for the City of Los Angeles.
- To provide enough resources so that each city council district has its own DONE lawyer who will actually attend meetings so as to provide timely legal advice and represent them as their client rather than protecting the department and the city first.
Let's consider the first proposal, because to my mind, it's the crux of the matter. The suggestion is to review and rewrite the election rules, not in and of itself a bad thing. The problem is that Allen's proposed process uses a procedure which is entirely top-down.
It starts with the City Council President at the top, and he decides who gets to decide. That's three-quarters of the game right there. You can be sure that controversial people and deep thinkers will be left off any such committee. The select committee would have another defect. It's created out of a select few -- former neighborhood council presidents -- who are given the power to go off by themselves and make decisions for the rest of us.
That this should be an unwelcome approach is immediately obvious to the thousands of us who have never been neighborhood council presidents. We would be disenfranchised.
You might also ask, why should we expect that neighborhood council presidents are the ones who should be given the authority to write the rule book for our elections? How does this fit with the concept of choosing those with the most knowledge and ability to carry out a task?
I would like to offer a couple of real-life examples of how to create a useful review committee and how not to do it.
First, let's consider a process that actually worked. Several years ago, neighborhood councils were faced with a proposal that came out of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. The BONC is the appointed commission that is supposed to set overall policy within the entire system. The proposal -- somewhat vague at the start, but for that very reason threatening to many of our hard-won gains -- was that DONE and the BONC would come up with a single set of bylaws that would be imposed upon all neighborhood councils. Since we are so different from each other in so many ways, this created a quiet firestorm of disapproval. What could we do? What did we do?
As private individuals and through the citywide neighborhood council alliance, we created a taskforce to deal with the bylaws issue. Instead of asking one of the top elected officials to appoint a select committee, we simply announced that everyone was welcome to attend and participate. It was "come one, come all," and they did. We had people from all over the city, as well as members of the BONC and representatives from DONE. We came up with a proposal that was satisfying to the neighborhood councils and to city officials, and which did a minimum of harm. The city got what it wanted, which turned out to be that each neighborhood council had bylaws arranged in the same order (it was amazing to us how little the officials actually wanted). Neighborhood councils didn't have to restructure themselves.
The reason I bring up this example is to point out that we created the taskforce because the top-down system had failed us. You could say that we created our process in direct opposition to the top-down system.
Our bottom-up process brought fresh blood into the discussion, got us a lot of ideas to toss around, and ultimately allowed us to agree on a plan that was effectively without opposition. Had the process been top-down and behind closed doors, I doubt that the outcome would have been accepted so easily.
The wide-open system had another virtue: It seemed to provide comfort to people who heard about the process and couldn't make the meetings. Everyone, even those who did not attend, understood that anybody could attend and anybody could object to any element of our plan. They understood that their own concerns would be raised by someone at some point.
Compare that to Allen's proposal number 1, which calls for the second-most powerful politician in the city (maybe the most powerful) to choose from a select list -- that of former presidents. There are several thousand people who have participated in the neighborhood council system over the years, and most of us have never been neighborhood council presidents.
Now I would like to offer an example of how a top-down system worked poorly. The 1999 city Charter amendment that created the neighborhood council system called for a review within 7 years. Thus in the mid-2000s we had the Neighborhood Council Review Commission (NCRC). Its members were appointed by the city council representatives and by the mayor. It was just the sort of select committee that James Allen proposes. The NCRC managed to meet for almost a year, spent a huge amount of money, and then took a modest problem -- the definition of who is eligible to vote and participate in neighborhood councils -- and made it into the chronic disaster it is today. Out of the NCRC debacle, we saw the extension of voting rights through the creation of a new definition, the "Factual Basis Stakeholder." This effectively made every neighborhood council election open to any and every person. The FB stakeholder definition has more recently been modified and given another name but it's still the extension of the franchise to the whole world.
I agree that our elections are a mess. I just don't agree with the proposed method to create the review process. I don't think it would even get to the right questions, much less the right answers.
By the way, the easiest and most philosophically defensible approach to fixing our election problems is to limit neighborhood council stakeholder status to those who live within the neighborhood council's district. That would solve a lot of problems. The next most logical approach is to go back to the original definition of "lives, works, or owns property within the district." Simple. I sympathize with the idea that we should fix our electoral problems for once and for all. But the way to fix the system is not through the old smoke filled room.
A couple of other comments on a different subject
Allen begins the development of his argument with a good point. The city of Los Angeles is too populous to be well served by a City Council of only 15 members. Each council member represents more than a quarter of a million inhabitants. Allen suggests that neighborhood councils might take up some of the slack:
"The time is fast approaching that the neighborhood council structure should evolve into a kind of bicameral governance system. This is not an uncommon solution in democracies that attain significant size and budget."
I imagine that James is suggesting that the mass of neighborhood councils could function as an equivalent to a second house in a state legislature, but at the municipal level.
This is not so much a radical idea as it is an unlikely idea. It's the sort of structural specification that comes up in a constitutional convention prior to the establishment of a state or a county. I've lived in a lot of places in several states, and I've never seen a city or county with a two-house legislative body.
There is, however, an idea that has been floating around for decades. The suggestion is that Los Angeles be divided into boroughs, something akin to the system that New York uses. It would have the virtue that districts are not left to the mercies of single individuals, as our current city council district system does. The borough proposal is also unlikely to be fulfilled, but it has the virtue of having been considered carefully by experts in local governance and shown to work in practice.
And finally proposals 2 and 3, one dealing with a Citizens' Bill of Rights, and the other calling for the city to provide City Attorneys for our neighborhood council meetings
I'd like to know what the Citizens' Bill of Rights is about. It might be a good idea. It might not. I suspect that James already has something in mind, but I don't know what it is. The best way to discuss such things in City Watch or at the annual Congress of Neighborhood Councils is to be provided the specifics. Once again, I'm not all that impressed with a process that starts with the appointment of a select panel by the elected officials or, as an alternative, by a one-day meeting that isn't structured to function as an appointive body.
As to proposal 3, the provision of City Attorneys, it seems like a reasonable idea, but we are talking a lot of expense here, and I'm not sure what the upside is. Since neighborhood councils do not pass laws, the intricate sort of legal work that is done by the City Attorney's office is unnecessary. It would be useful to have somebody with knowledge of the law and Roberts Rules in attendance at neighborhood council meetings, but I doubt that we require the presence of a licensed attorney.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
AT LENGTH—An Open Letter to LA City Council President Herb Wesson: I appear before you today as the outgoing president of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council of which you and the Los Angeles City Council may have heard about over the past few months regarding the homeless crisis and related issues. I would urge you to believe little of what you hear and only half of what you read regarding this issue in our district.
There are many good people in our district with a social conscience who believe in the humane and compassionate treatment of this city’s dispossessed. These are my own comments and not those of my council.
I am here today, in part, to pay my respect to you personally and to say that it has been my honor to serve this city during your leadership. Outside of the neighborhood council system, there are few places in which to learn and develop leadership skills and political courage in the civic arena. Your leadership has served as an instruction manual for many such as myself in regards to conducting council meetings and to do it with dignity and resolve.
In my position, I’ve also been subjected to slander and even profane bigotry in both public comments and social media. I have taken certain solace and awkward comfort knowing that even the leader of this council has to endure harsh public criticism. You have taught me a great deal by your example and I wish to thank you personally. You are a scholar of the civic enterprise.
I do not come bearing any fancy certificates, but I do bring my heartfelt thanks as I and many others stand with you in your defiance against the hate speech that was recently directed towards you and others on this council.
While I am a long time advocate and defender of free speech, I have found that there is a rising need for a new civility in conducting our common affairs and that hate speech and threats do nothing to further the common good. Yet it must be remembered that civility is a two way street, and that the city with all of its powers, needs to show respect to its citizens in order to receive it back in return. This need for civility however should not exclude the necessity of speaking truth to power. For “power,” as Frederick Douglass once wrote, “concedes nothing without a demand.” And neighborhood councils, when empowered, should demand much of this city.
So, I am here today to thank you for your guidance and leadership, but to also fulfill what the neighborhood councils are chartered to do -- advise the city.
I tend to adhere to the Jeffersonian theory that, “the cure for bad government is not more laws but more democracy.”
And to that precept, this city must in the end recognize its place in the history of this nation.
It is long past time that a city of this size in geography and population can be adequately represented by just 15 council members who serve a growing constituency of more than 250,000 souls in each district.
The time is fast approaching that the Neighborhood Council structure should evolve into a kind of bicameral Governance system. This is not an uncommon solution in democracies that attain significant size and budget. Surely this will not come because a few wish it to be done, but will come as a political necessity to avoid another attempt at secession, a rebellion, or in the aftermath of yet another riot.
My advice to the city is that the incivilities and obstructions to new developments that could ease the housing crisis are due to a sense of disempowerment among our citizens and neighborhood councils in the outreaches of our great city.
City Council members have often viewed neighborhood councils in their districts, in one of two ways: as a nuisance that should be ignored when they can’t be placated with soft platitudes -- or as a respected partner at the grassroots level with which to engage in thoughtful dialog about the quality of life in this city.
The current Neighborhood Council system is just one step in the evolutionary process of civic engagement that needs to be nourished, not poisoned at its root. But I have been a witness to another development within the neighborhood council structure: the subversion of the neighborhood councils at the hands of City Council members for political gain.
This has been my experience in Council District 15 where community surrogates, through subterfuge and connivance, have gained control of key council boards to dampen criticism of the council member as a means to maintain control before a coming election. This is a dangerous tactic as many of these “surrogates” are so ill prepared for public service and antagonistic to the goal of attaining any civil discourse. Their tactics alone provide evidence enough of this.
I fear that the populist nativist fire raging in other parts of the country are rising up here in Los Angeles amongst some neighborhood councils and are being supported by some councilmembers and their staffs. This is going to do great harm to this city. There are better individuals of higher integrity who have been driven from public service by those who spread fear and slander to gain position.
What I have come here to ask of you, President Wesson, are these:
- To empanel a commission of 15 former Neighborhood Council presidents based upon their seniority and experience, chosen by you and not the local council office, to review and reform the DONE election manual.
- To empanel a commission formed at the next Congress of Neighborhood Empowerment to draft a Citizen’s Bill of Rights for the City of Los Angeles.
- To provide enough resources so that each City Council district has its own DONE lawyer who will actually attend meetings so as to provide timely legal advice and represent them as their client rather than protecting the department and the city first.
Lastly, to Mr. Buscaino -- it has been more than 10 months since the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council brought an awareness citywide that links the growth of homelessness and this city’s affordable housing deficit in your district. Since then, you have ignored the advice of and disempowered that council on the issue. Only recently have you come to realize that 88 percent of the homeless in your district are indeed long time constituents -- not people bussed in from neighboring cities. By law and your position, you must represent them too. Up until now, you have not done an adequate job.
It is also true that by your direction some $800,000 of public monies have been expended on enforcement of city ordinances against the homeless. This effort has done little to reduce the size of the population in distress or alleviate their suffering. When you are ready to start solving this problem rather than blaming either the victims or the messengers, you should call me. There are immediate solutions that could be implemented that would better use those public monies you’re doling out on the issue.
In the meantime, President Wesson, I call on you to request the Controller’s office to execute an audit of the costs related to encampment sweeps and other enforcement measures related to criminalizing the homeless rather than solving the problem. And, Councilman Harris-Dawson, I am available at your invitation to testify in detail on the matters addressed herein.
As you will see, a more enlightened approach will -- by necessity and by the courage of people of goodwill and conscience in the City of Los Angeles -- triumph in the end.
James Preston Allen, President
Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council 2014-2016
(James Preston Allen has served as president of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council since 2014 and is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!") Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.