MY TURN--I really thought this time would be different. Especially after all the toxic political atmosphere had spurred thousands into marches; phone calls to numerous members of Congress; noisy town halls; increased sales in tranquilizers; campaign events; lots of the "sky is falling" on social media; and huge viewership increases in cable news shows; the Los Angeles voting electorate didn't manage to reach even a 12% turnout. Our previous election turnout in 2013 was 21% and that was nothing to brag about.
The largest turnout for a Mayoral election was when Tom Bradley challenged Sam Yorty for Mayor. Yorty won that election with a 76% turnout. There is no doubt that racial prejudice played a big part in his victory. Tom Bradley won the next election against Yorty with a 64 % turnout. Richard Riordan received the biggest turnout for Mayor in recent years at 45%. That was after the riots and Rodney King.
Does this mean we must have a crisis in order to go to the polls? Maybe our Federal crisis has taken so much energy that Angelenos don't realize the local elections affect their everyday lives. Since we will not garner a lot of sympathy or care from President Trump (after all he lost by double digits in CA) it is even more important to have strong, smart, ethical, elected leaders to make sure we can survive whatever comes our way from Washington DC.
The Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State University did a study on "Who Votes in Los Angeles Local Elections". They analyzed the 2013 election at that time was one of the lowest turnouts. They found that in reality the voter turnout was not a very good representation of the City's population. Voters were predominately white, older home owners. The lowest turnout group was Latinos, which is unfortunate, since statistics point out that 90% of Latinos reaching the voting age of 18 were born in the U.S.
The report is really interesting. It concludes with both structural and civic reform. The structural reform suggestion to move the elections to even years has already been voted on and passed.
The other structural change was to increase the City Council currently covering two million registered voters to twenty one. There are currently five LA County Supervisors for more than five million registered voters. Both legislative branches should increase their elected representatives. Having smaller geographic areas would allow the City Council Member to be closer to his/her constituents thereby being more inclusive. It is even more relevant for the County.
District 5, as an example, has both parts of the City and the Valley. Some of the other districts have different ethnic, economic and social challenges within the district. It makes more sense for each District to be more homogeneous.
The last time enlarging the City Council was on the ballot was 1999 and there have been huge demographic changes since then.
Maybe someone should take the bull by the horns and start a petition to have an increase in both areas. It is almost impossible to do a good job with so many constituents. Since CALEXIT is such a slight possibility; having smaller geographic areas would give the City and County electorate a much better look at local government and what their "electeds" are doing ... or NOT doing.
The PBI Report also had suggestions for Civic Reform commenting that local issues for working class people, young people and minorities do not have as much interest in local as they do in federal elections. In addition, people who are active and knowledgeable about City and County challenges ... vote. Those who are not knowledgeable don't vote because of either lack of interest or lack of knowledge. The candidates also can and should do more to show their prospective voters why the issues are relevant to them.
So what else can we add to Civic Reform?
Better and more civic involvement for High School students. Get them excited about the possibilities of making a difference. When I went to High school in Los Angeles we had something called a "student congress" at City Hall. Civics’ classes would discuss the challenges of the day. Kids can get their parents motivated to vote. Elected and appointed officials can have Department speaker bureaus, where they send an enthusiastic and knowledgeable people to talk about what they are doing and how it affects each student’s life.
Adapt the target marketing, instead of sending out thousands of the same expensive print pieces. After the initial mailer, most people I know sent the mailers straight into the recycle bin. Utilize Social Media. Do the research showing what each group of constituents really wants or fears. Internet messaging has brought down costs in printing and postage but one size does not fit all groups.
Neighborhood Councils (NC's) attract only 15% participation of our City's populace. Some have seen the light and are having youth projects and activities. Most Boards of Directors are made up of older adults, set in their ways and who want the status quo. There were quite a few younger generation attendees at the last Neighborhood Congress but as far as I know, nothing has been done to follow up. Yes, there is a so called leadership program, but again theory instead of practical and no follow up.
Perhaps DONE should hire a young millennial to do nothing but motivate and organize an effective program to distribute to the various neighborhood councils. Why not ask each Board member to bring a new person to each Board meeting?
Local NC Boards should be able to send out to the High School s in their area energetic and interesting speakers to talk about involvement and WHY it is important.
Most of the Neighborhood Council Board meetings are as exciting as watching paint dry! Perhaps DONE could come up with program ideas. I don't recommend the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC) be asked to do anything since they are not effective. In fact, in my opinion the entire Neighborhood Council System needs an upgrade. For something that has so much promise to bring people together and participate in making this City better ... they (again in my opinion,) get a ‘C-' in performance, vision and creativity. and an ‘A’ in bureaucratic gobbledygook.
As always comments are welcome as well as suggestions or ideas to make our City better.
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com)