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.