VOICES - Greg Nelson (City Watch 08-18-2011) tells us that the "The 1-percent Solution" is wrong and that the requirement to have only one percent of a community's current registered voters vote in a neighborhood council board election is simply too burdensome.
There are two events coming up in September that touch on both of these issues. The high point of the year will be the almost-annual Los Angeles Congress of Neighborhoods, to take place at City Hall all day on September 24. Two dozen workshops and general sessions will cover such topics as the city budget and emergency preparedness, to how to run a meeting and how neighborhood councils work.
All of the Congress programs will focus on educating and re-motivating current NC board members and helping the newly elected NC leaders on these boards understand how and why their authority must follow certain procedures, from the Brown Act, to avoidance of conflicts of interest, as set forth in the City Charter, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. As many as five hundred NC "stakeholders" are expected to attend.
At the other end of the spectrum will be the first time board elections of two neighborhood councils that comprise the Westlake community, just west of downtown. The fact that Westlake is made up of 98-percent Latino, 99-percent renters, 50-percent non-citizen and non-English speaking, and 40-percent annual transience does not begin to define the problems that plagued the almost ten-year effort to organize this historic part of Los Angeles.
At least a half-dozen groups over the past decade tried to form a viable neighborhood council for the 45,000 residents, despite the infighting, egos and incompetence. Finally, the community was split in half so that two competing groups could each have their own little fiefdoms, with each getting the $40,000 handout from city taxpayers. Westlake North and Westlake South were certified last June 7th, with Sixth Street as the dividing line. This busy thoroughfare is known for the wall-to-wall street vendors that monopolize the sidewalks, just east of MacArthur Park every evening.
The 15-member NC boards will be elected in separate "town hall" meetings on September 17th. The South group will meet at 10am in the Latino Education Center, 1709 West 8th Street; while the North elections will be at 2pm at the Rampart Police Community Room, 1401 West Sixth Street. Anyone can attend either meeting, but only "stakeholders" can cast votes.
The term "stakeholder" was originally defined in the City Charter as one who lived, worked or owned property within the neighborhood council boundaries. Six years ago, that definition was expanded by the LA City Council to include anyone who "affirmed" an interest in the community. This change has led to a few neighborhood councils being taken over by "voters" who have been bused in to dominate the election count.
Across the city in 2010, in 89 neighborhood council board elections, more than one-sixth of 21,623 total votes were cast by these "factual basis" non-residents, according to the City Clerk's Report to the City Council October 4, 2010. A few weeks later the LA City Attorney issued a scathing opinion against this practice of allowing people with no apparent connection to the community to vote in that community's NC election. An example of such an abuse was "voters" showing up with a sales receipt for a cup of coffee from a cafe in the community, which was accepted as a valid qualification to vote.
While the two Westlake neighborhood councils will probably not suffer such ballot box stuffing, the problem there has been to recruit enough local residents and workers to run for seats on the NC boards. Were it not for last minute recruiting to meet the August 18th, 6pm deadline for board candidate applications, neither the North nor South boards would have enough warm bodies to fill their 15 seats. The Westlake North election committee was still seeking candidates AFTER the legally posted 6pm deadline.
Neither group made any effort to publicize the candidate deadline or the upcoming elections. In NC parlance, this is called "outreach." There was no motivation to do so, since, if less than 15 people were on the ballot, the remainder could be "appointed" by those who are successfully elected, thus ensuring control of each board by a small group. The big prize is the distribution control of the annual $40,000 every neighborhood council gets from the city taxpayers. Former Mayor Hahn added this "carrot" to NC boards a few years ago to boost his election support. Then, it was $50,000.
The funds are spent by a majority vote of each neighborhood council on programs that are supposed to benefit the entire community. It doesn't always work out this way. For example, last year an NC board voted $1,500 to pay for a dance class, that had been turned down by the principal of the local school. One of the only two dozen participants in the class was the daughter of one of the NC board members.
It is an act of heresy to suggest, in the company of neighborhood council board members, that there should be any strings on the current $40,000 funding. If the "One-percent" rule, favored by Department of Neighborhood Empowerment General Manager BongHwan Kim were adopted, then most of the 95 NCs wouldn't get a dime. The proposal would require one percent of a community's registered voters to vote in the local neighborhood council board election. Fat chance!
There is zero possibility that the LA Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, which has the responsibility for setting overall policy for the NC system, would ever approve such a requirement. Even after debating the problem of "factual basis" voters, the best policy (#2011-02, June 7, 2011) the Board could agree on was "It is recommended and advised that ... Each Neighborhood Council should allow for inclusion of a minimum of one board seat" for factual basis stakeholders.
So my advice is to come visit the Westlake NC board elections on September 17th, and if you still have any faith in the NC system, come around to the Congress a week later on the 24th. It should be very educational to see how our local taxes are spent.
(Jennifer Solis has lived her entire 25 years in Westlake and is working toward her PhD in clinical psychology. She takes comments at [email protected]) -cw
Tags: neighborhood councils, 1% solution, Westlake, City Charter, BongHwan Kim, Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, Greg Nelson, Westlake North, Westlake South, City Council, stakeholders, definition of stakeholder, Rampart, Latino, registered voters, ballot box, Brown Act
Vol 8 Issue 68
Pub: Aug 26, 2011