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Mon, Apr

Hallelujah … A Neighborhood Council that Thinks Out of the Box

MY TURN-I was really depressed after writing last week’s CityWatch article (‘Anti-Neighborhood Council Conspiracy …’) …I look at all of the volunteers working thousands of hours to make our City better and see that some of our elected’s would just as soon see them ‘be good children and speak when spoken to.’ 

This has happened before! Just when I am ready to give up on this entire NC system as a waste of valuable time … something comes along and renews my faith that maybe there is a silver lining. 

I want to thank the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council (DLANC) for doing just that.  This NC is really complex in comparison to most.  It has the two extremes in stakeholders … the upscale and skid row.  The changes that have taken place in Downtown Los Angeles are probably greater than any other part of the City and it has happened during the years since DLANC was formed in 2002. 

DLANC was awarded a $122,000 Grant two years ago to develop its vision of what its community should look like.  The Downtown Vision  was approved by the DLANC Board in November.  It is available for everyone to read.  It is an outstanding example of what NC’s are capable of doing IF their leaders have vision and motivation. 

How did this come about? 

Background: 

In October of 2010, DLANC created a proposal for the Southern California  Association of Governments ( SCAG) Compass Blueprint project.  Realizing  how rapidly things were changing  the request was to get help to create a comprehensive long-term vision for sustainability, mobility, and environmental, economic and physical conditions in Downtown LA. 

Most of the NC members who wrote the Grant request had left in the two year interim and when President Patti Berman received a call in 2012 saying that for the first time, a Compass Blueprint grant was given to a Neighborhood Council, she was overwhelmed to say the least. 

Because NC’s are not allowed to solicit donations or grants (another bureaucratic bungle) SCAG contracted with the consulting firm AECom to do the actual work on the Vision Plan.   They were paid directly by SCAG.  This company had a lot of experience in this area. 

The work started in 2012 and finished in 2014.    During this process, stakeholders, as well as board members were invited to participate in the creation of ideas for the vision plan. 

For those of you looking at changes in your communities this is a great blue print of what to consider. 

I’m going to excerpt  some of the Executive Summary and the Benefits of the vision hoping it will motivate you to read the entire report: 

According to multiple surveys, DowntownLos Angeles is also home to more than 52,000+residents, 200,000+ workers, 10 million+visitors, and a multitude of neighborhoods and districts. 

In the early 2000s, with the bold goal of“Empower Yourself, Empower Your Community,Empower LA,” the City of Los Angeles embraced, in an unprecedented fashion, citizen-based governance and grassroots democracy. 

Neighborhood Councils were established all across the city and have, in the decade since,empowered community members to lead, engage,and participate in the governance of their city and their neighborhoods. 

DLANC continues to be a pioneer. It is the first neighborhood council to have sought and secured the resources to map its own future. In 2012, it was awarded a grant from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) to craft its own vision for the future. 

This document is the product of that grant. 

The greatest promise of Vision Downtown will be its ability to provide a much-needed framework for Downtownsuccessful evolution and fulfill the vision for future projects. 

DLANCs proactive efforts to shapeits own future will serve as pilot study for allneighborhood councils. This vision plan and the underlying process has the potential to serve as a model for other neighborhood councils interested in proactively crafting their own destiny. 

Just as neighborhood councils were once an experiment, this next level of community planningis as well. The success of DLANCs planningwill transform the dynamics of traditional city planning in the City of Los Angeles. 

It will provide guidance to the DLANC board asit performs its review/advisory role for projectswithin its jurisdiction. It provides a community-endorsed set of aspirations that will provide input to City and other public agencies as they decide on revising and establishing new regulations for Downtown development. 

ReCode LA, the new DowntownDevelopment Code, and the Central City/CentralCity North Community Plans are of immediate relevance. 

It identifies short-term individual projects in the public realm, which DLANC can pursue for implementation via additional fundraising. 

Finally, it assembles in one place a comprehensive set of aspirations that embody the vision of this generation of the Downtown community. 

The Downtown community embraces its uniqueposition of serving as the heart of the city, acrucible of its finest aspirations. It strives to protect its inclusive and diverse mix of residents, jobs, and visitors and is ready to set standards– that the rest of the city may emulate – for progressive and responsible urban growth. 

It welcomes the opportunity to place the pedestrian first and lead the way in redefining the city relationship with car and pedestrians. 

The Downtown community recognizes that residents – people who live and raise their families in the neighborhood – have been instrumental in guiding Downtowns resurgence. 


 

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The question is how is DLANC going to be able to handle the changes suggested in the Downtown Vision Plan? 

Looking at their Board of Directors which total 27 … I was struck by some of the positions:   Here is an NC that really knows their community. 

  • 4 directors for Arts, Cultural and Educational Activities
  • 8 Directors covering the various business sectors from toys to fashion
  • 3 Directors Social Service Providers
  • 1area-wide resident homeless director
  • 1 Central City East Resident Skid Row Director 

The rest of the positions are much like other NC’s. 

From the beginning, the idea was to create a document that spoke to issues existing at a level at which a Neighborhood Council would be able to make changes. 

 Some of the projects that DLANC is considering using the Vision Plan are: 

  • Create a short hop transportation plan for downtown (this would either be an enhancement of the current Dash system or an additional system) 
  • Encourage re-timing of pedestrian light at mid-block crossings.  Currently pedestrians may wait as many as 3 traffic light changes before they are allowed to cross
  • Encourage the creation of additional mid-block crossings 
  • Look into using scramble walks at strategic corners to reduce the need for jay-walking tickets 
  • Encourage clean-tech and mixed use zoning where there is currently only manufacturing 
  • Help to develop guidelines for “flex” use of new buildings in the current industrial zones 
  • Work with the City to turn many Downtown streets into “Complete Streets” which among other things require protected bike lanes. 
  • Find grant and other funding sources to help areas create improvements and green space out of dead-end streets and alleys. 

Believe it or not Patti Berman (photo) has a day job apart from being the DLANC President, which she describes as half a work week job. 

She is a graduate of UCLA, with a degree in Abstract Mathematics.  She  spent two plus decades as a night club singer- most of it on the road.  She designed large software applications for both commercial and federal accounting and has recently turned the information into distance learning courses for accountants who need to learn federal standards.  She still sings on occasion.   She moved downtown fourteen years ago and loves what it has become and what it will become. 

In reviewing all of the thought and work which went into this Vision Plan, Berman said: 

“Working with AECom, the community and our stakeholders to create Vision Downtown has been an amazing 2-year journey.   I think a great deal of credit goes to the team at AECom, especially the team leader, Gaurav Srivastava. 

“I am grateful for the experience.  I am proud of what has been produced…  and I am excited to look forward to the things that we can do using the Plan as a guide. 

“My hope is that we will tackle as many projects from the Vision Plan as possible.  The idea is to engage stakeholders with appropriate expertise and talents to work with projects and bring the results to the City and/or private enterprises to implement. 

“There are many detractors of the NC system.  And I know that it is… imperfect.  I would hope, however, that successes like Vision Downtown —-will provide proof, that given a chance, our  NC’s and their communities can do great things. 

In reading the Vision Plan I noticed that it treads lightly on the subject of homelessness.  Solving that particular challenge is a City-wide project.  This NC has at least recognized the issue and addresses it on their Board positions.

Perhaps the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC) instead of spending the last year trying to get a “Code of Conduct” signed by 95 NC’s they could ask them all to add a Homeless director and committee to their Board.   For some NC’s it is a small problem … for others it is huge.  Imagine what all that brainpower and creativity could do?  

BONC, you supposedly are in charge of making policy … do something significant! 

Thank you DLANC for starting my week a little brighter! 

A  Postcript …The Monday  LA Times in their front page Column 1  talked about the changes in Downtown LA referring to the hash tag DTLA. They mentioned several groups working towards building a better community but neglected to mention DLANC.  Maybe that is another policy BONC could implement … engagement with the mass media! 

As always comments are welcome.

 

 (Denyse Selesnick is a featured CityWatch columnist.  She is a former Publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com)  

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 20, 2015