Tue, Aug

Are the Neighborhood Councils Going Out With a Whimper?

LA NEIGHBORHOODS - An apparently innocent remark by CityWatch editor Ken Draper at the Saturday LA Neighborhood Council Coalition meeting got me to thinking.

His basic query was 'why is there no sense of outrage that the Mayor and the City Council and DONE are telling neighborhood councils whether or not they will have elections before 2013/14'?

Wow! Ken tapped into a suppressed sense of anger and frustration that I wasn't even aware of, I've been so busy for a long time trying to play nice in the face of not nice at all from the mayor & the Council.

I mean, look at the facts. The mayor has DONE's General Manager, BongHwan Kim, on a short leash of a series of 6 month interim appointments, the City Council has DONE on a bonsai tree funding diet, the Education & Neighborhoods Committee can't decide whether to fund any NC elections at all, and somewhere in there the Charter of the City of Los Angeles lies in an abandoned basement (along with the rape kits and other broken promises of this broken city), gathering mold. Remember the Charter?

As Stephen Box said in his recent article about the Charter and our NC Bureaucracy: (link)

"Neighborhood Councils were created with a very simple purpose, “to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.”

What has actually occurred, in an un-thought-out if fairly systematic fashion, is that as long as the neighborhood councils 'go along to get along' with their elected officials, they are tolerated, and even sometimes blessed with some cooperation on one or two issues, or a pat on the head. When the Neighborhood Councils do what the Charter says we should do - get more folks involved, and try to make government more responsive to local needs, then 'hoo, boy!’.

For example in Northeast LA, where the fault lines are pretty deep and recent Council elections were actually contentious, look at what we have. Boyle Heights NC can't get a quorum to hold a meeting and may be de-certified, Cypress Park NC has ceased functioning, the Highland Park Neighborhood Council was almost de-certified by DONE, and the Glassell Park NC is run by the City through its current Chair and marginally functions.

Then there are the Neighborhood Councils like Eagle Rock, ASNC/Mt. Washington, and Lincoln Heights (except for beer licenses) that basically play nice with electeds and are doing just fine, thank you very much.

And in the midst of all of this the City screwed up last year's election process for neighborhood councils so badly that the result was a train wreck of indifference and little if any turnout for too many elections.

I for one am not blaming the City Clerk for this -- I put the blame squarely where it belongs, in a City and bureaucracy that made so many changes so many times in who was doing what, what funding was available, and at least half a dozen 'mandatory' Bylaws changes fronted by DONE, that's it’s a miracle that there were any elections at all.

Of course the City Council members who don't like neighborhood councils anyway will use the low turnout numbers to 'prove' that the NC system is useless, conveniently forgetting their starring role in destroying the system.

So, back to the original point. Have we as Neighborhood Councils become such toadies to the system, just a pretend city department where we will give our pittance in NC funding to the existing City Departments as supplemental funding instead of meeting our Charter mandate?

Are we really elected to neighborhood councils for personal importance, or to try and bring people together to try and make their government work for them?

Before everyone brings out the tar and pitchforks, I am speaking from personal experience with the majority of neighborhood councils in Northeast LA only. It may well be that everything is hunky dory in other parts of the City. But I find it unlikely that Northeast LA is unique.

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist and currently serves on the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council. He blogs at nelalives.com) -cw

Tags: neighborhood councils, NC elections, city clerk, LANCC, mayor, city council

Vol 9 Issue 45
Pub: June 7, 2011