111 Great (and Almost Great) Ideas for Neighborhood Councils in 2013
Written by Greg Nelson
THE CITY - If you don’t want to read this column, and instead skip to the list of 111 ideas that neighborhood councils could adopt in order to change city government, click here and get to work.
I have bored myself to death with all that I’ve written about the unlimited potential that neighborhood councils have to swing a big stick and fundamentally change city government, from changing its rules and laws to electing its leaders.
Neighborhood councils weren’t created to duplicate the work of homeowner associations, chambers of commerce, or the City Council.
Their purpose is to form the foundation of, and nurture a system of participatory democracy. That means that the neighborhood councils need to take themselves beyond local issues and occasionally reacting to an objectionable proposal from city hall.
It is perhaps with foolish optimism that I begin 2013 with an accumulation of as many of the ideas as I can remember that I’ve previously recommended to neighborhood councils.
The opportunity for massive numbers of people to participate in civic discussions must replace the small cabals that pretend to speak for the public but rarely make any attempt to reach past their own beliefs and crusades.
President Obama won re-election by assembling an army of volunteers and a motley crew of the brightest computer geeks in the country to successfully target those who were most likely to vote for him, and ensure that they voted.
Neighborhood councils may never be able to raise much money as well-heeled special interests in support of their favorite candidates and measures, but they can organize their own volunteer army to tip votes in the City Council or on the ballot in their favor. Each council did it during the process of getting certified.
When building a movement it’s always best to begin with goals that have universal support, as opposed to issues that are guaranteed to divide the members.
The list attempts to provide some suggestions. If only one person is able to get one of the ideas adopted it will be a significant victory for grass-roots democracy.
Many of the items are guided by the belief that the City Council can do much to improve the way it does its business … the public’s business.
Those ideas begin with neighborhood councils insisting that the City Council adopt as an operating principle the same goal that the new City Charter gave to the neighborhood councils: to promote public participation in government.
It was alarming to see the Council President cut off former Mayor Richard Riordan’s attempt to answer a question the president asked him about pension reform by telling Riordan, "I get the last word here."
If that’s the way a former mayor is treated, what chance does anyone else have of being heard?
The City Council’s goal appears to be to meet only the bare minimum legal requirements for openness and transparency. It can do better, but it likely won’t even have the discussion unless there is public pressure. And that’s what neighborhood councils are expected to do.
It’s difficult for anyone to hold City Council members accountable when their attendance records are so well hidden.
And it’s nearly impossible for a person to present an idea or complaint to the City Council without taking time off work or away from their family, travel to City Hall, pay for parking, wait hours to be heard, talk for two minutes, and too often have none of the members paying attention.
For solutions to these and other problems with city government, click here.
(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System, served as chief of staff for former LA City Councilman Joel Wachs … and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)