Garcetti Appointments Make Neighborhood Councils LA's ‘House of Cards’

MAILANDER’S LA-After a very uneven yet occasionally hopeful ten-year run, Neighborhood Councils over these past few months have become a shambles and a joke throughout the City, with more and more citizens expressing anger about nearly every aspect of their existence. 

And the more I ask people around town, the more I am told I should focus on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners--especially the Garcetti appointees, Lydia Grant, Olivia Rubio, and Victor Medina--rather than General Manager Grayce Liu, when attempting to sharpen my inquiry regarding how Neighborhood Councils began flaunting not only local laws but voting rights, and indeed the US Constitution itself.

That Neighborhood Councils have become a shambles and a joke is pretty much conventional wisdom now--even EmpowerLA staffers are openly admitting it.  But the quick downturn of course this would mean that the real culprit would be not Liu but Mayor Eric Garcetti.  Garcetti made three hasty appointments to this Commission--to very undistinguished folks by ordinary civic commission’s standards--two of whom happened to be supporters of his Mayoral campaign.

When shaping the guidelines for the present Neighborhood Council elections, which included such Constitution-bashing oddities as "You shall not engage in negative campaigning ("mudslinging") during your campaign,"  I am also told neither Liu nor the City Attorney's office had any input in to them, and indeed the guidelines made them cringe.  I am further told that some folks in the City Attorney's Office has nearly as much concern about them as I do.

It turns out the Commissioners alone, especially the newly-appointed ones, are to blame here for the First Amendment-trashing provision about "no mudslinging" or "negative campaigning" as they are for the odd and likely unconstitutional definition of who a stakeholder in a community might be--and that GM Grayce Liu in disseminating these guidelines "was only following orders."

It's not only the fact that these guidelines trample on the First Amendment on the "no negative campaigning" point. The crazy guidelines as provided by the Commission also call for candidates to report any "illegal or fraudulent activity" to the Department.

And what would "illegal or fraudulent" activity be? Wouldn't that be something that you report to the Police or the DA?

Certainly someone skeptical of the unconstitutional "guidelines" is not engaging in "illegal or fraudulent" activity in the minds of any law enforcement agency. But maybe these otherwise undistinguished Commissioners think they're the law itself, and that the Department has police power too.

That might explain why some of these Neighborhood Council ninnies behave the way they do, but it's not anywhere near how government administration works in America.

I was talking to friend who follows the City closely on Tuesday--we were meeting at Cafe Verona on La Brea. He suddenly told me, "I don't live here but I eat here all the time. I walk down La Brea after I'm done and browse the stores. I should be able to vote on matters that affect this commercial strip."

The new stakeholder definitions, unlike the guidelines, did have the endorsement of the City Attorney's office.  But they are problematic too.

I can't imagine that if anyone actually bothered to take the City of LA to court over any one of the unconstitutional proclamations of EmpowerLA that the whole house of cards wouldn't crash.

Garcetti in locating these new and undistinguished Commissioners chose notoriously weakly, even by usual BONC standards. Lydia Grant has not only little college but also little actual work experience.

Olivia Rubio, a pleasant enough Boyle Heights social worker, but hardly yet commission mettle, a scant two years out of grad school. Previous to her appointment, Rubio was similarly otherwise undistinguished as Grant was, other than for the fact that she campaigned and campaigned hard in Boyle Heights for Garcetti.

And Victor Medina, an occasional helper (his title was mostly "coordinator," and as of 2012 he was not even a board member there) at Gang Alternatives Program of Wilmington, the not-for-profit at which Doug Semark notoriously pays himself $157,000 a year (out of a $2 million budget) to bring alternative activities to the troubled area, may be doing admirable volunteer work, but it is not up to grownup standards either.

The short form is that these three appointments--Grant, Rubio, and Medina--while all meaning well, are scarcely movers and shakers. They have little to distinguish them when it comes to indicating even a baseline understanding of government administration.

In fact, the City of Los Angeles is so embarrassed of Garcetti's picks for this Commission that it hasn't even updated them at the City's website yet--a persistent problem we see growing through the NC system rather than diminishing in it.

I remain convinced that the buck should stop with Liu, or at least convinced that she should believe that it does.  If she needs to go to Council to clean up this Commission, that's what she should devote her energy doing.  

But indeed the lightweights on this Commission do a lot of the work that results in "guidelines" that restrict the candidate's First Amendment rights and stakeholder definitions that would seem to buckle under the weight of any lawsuit. 

It could also be, simply, that everyone involved is an amateur--and in this bizarre election cycle, we're seeing the predictable results.


(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.




Vol 12 Issue 16

Pub: Feb 25, 2014