Thu, Aug

Dueling Visions: The Neighborhood Council 1% Solution—Yes

OPINION - Garnering less than one percent of a community's voters in most elections, LA's neighborhood councils too often represent the interests of very narrow community factions. An idea put forth at a neighborhood council forum earlier this month might help to change that.

BongHwan Kim, General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and known to friends as "BH," tells me that he likes the idea of requiring neighborhood councils to garner one percent of the registered voters in a community to seat and maintain a board.

In an email, Kim says, "I liked the 1% minimum turnout idea and think it's worth pursuing. It could be approached in a few ways. The Commission could take up the matter since it falls within their scope of authority passing policies for NCs.

“I will be recommending that the Commission spend a considerable amount of time considering ways to nudge NCs to do more outreach. I think this is the greatest potential asset or liability for the NC system overall in terms of their influence in city government."
(Note: Paul Hatfield says no. See his take on the 1% Solution idea in CityWatch below)
On the same topic, a reader who serves on a Neighborhood Council board writes:

“BONC/DONE are struggling with NCs because they (NCs) are basically wasteful and mismanaged enterprises created in a "ready, fire, aim" manner with an awful system of structure and oversight.

“Some NCs had a turnout of about 80 voters at the last election cycle. This can be attributed to one of three things.

1.    The NC has no interest in promoting the election (generally effective in maintaining self-perpetuating Boards).

2.    The NC has no skills (or interest) in doing effective outreach.

3.    All of the above.

“The taxpayer cost per voter in those low turnout NC elections is a boondoggle at its best …

“DONE / BONC talk about a lot of streamlining measures but usually fails to get any traction on them.

“So while a 1% threshold has probably been discussed, actually implementing it would be a surprise to me. There would be three months of debate on just how to go about measuring it.”

Among Councilman Paul Krekorian's four pending motions to reform the Neighborhood Council system, [link] none address the fact that neighborhood councils often garner minimal representation in their communities, and some board members are elected with mere handfuls of votes.

Krekorian's office says that the "one-percent solution" didn't come up during the time they were assembling input. While he does acknowledge that turnout in neighborhood council elections has been embarrassingly low, he diminishes the problem by comparing it to other disappointing election turnouts.

"You’re right about turnout not being what we would hope," Krekorian told The Planning Report, a pro-development newsletter, early last month. "We could say that that’s true in City Council elections, mayoral elections, and even presidential elections. We need to do a better job of outreach at every level of democracy."

However, the difference between neighborhood council election returns and returns in other elections is drastic: a voter in the City of Los Angeles is over twenty times more likely to vote in a Council or Mayoral election than a neighborhood council election, and over fifty times more likely to vote in a presidential election.

Community residents across Los Angeles are increasingly complaining that neighborhood councils do not represent their interests, only commercial interests, and have no true mandate to represent their neighborhoods because turnout for elections is so very low.

They also note that there are no checks and balances built into the system, and that the prospective Krekorian reforms don't install any.

The City of Los Angeles gives each of its 95 neighborhood councils $45,000 a year.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He blogs at street-hassle.blogspot.com where this column first appeared.)

Tags: neighborhood councils, neighborhood council elections, voter turnout, Paul Krekorian, Councilman Krekorian, BongHwan Kim, DONE, BONC, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, NCs

Vol 9 Issue 65
Pub: Aug 16, 2011

Photo: Mike Szymansky for Studio City Patch