Neighborhood Councils: What Does it Really Mean to ‘Live, Work and Own Property’ in 2016?


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.