GELFAND’S WORLD - A neighborhood council board has passed a motion asking the mayor to replace Raquel Beltran, the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. We can expect the rebellion to spread, as other neighborhood councils take up similar motions, and we can expect the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) to hear the motion and consider joining in the movement.
As most of you will already know, DONE is the city agency that was created to assist neighborhood councils in getting meeting space, holding a congress, and other such needs. It was also entrusted with the job of helping new neighborhood councils come into existence. Finally, it was given the unpleasant responsibility of dealing with neighborhood councils that were clearly out of compliance with the law and with their own promises -- such as never holding a meeting from one year to the next.
These are pretty mild responsibilities. Looking at the City Charter amendment that established the system for creating neighborhood councils, there is no obvious language that says that DONE has power and authority over the individual lives of neighborhood council participants, nor does the language suggest that DONE should be able to take and misuse funding that was clearly intended to be used and distributed by neighborhood councils themselves. Recent revelations, including stories provided in CityWatch, have been revealing what DONE is really doing.
As recent CityWatch columns have suggested, there is a mounting anger against what we perceive to be the inadequate, incompetent, and irresponsible conduct of DONE's General Manager. It may be surprising to government officials how widespread that sentiment is, but to those of us participating in neighborhood council activities, it is obvious.
Much of the reasoning behind a movement to have Beltran replaced was presented here by Tony Butka just a few days ago. You can read it here. [https://www.citywatchla.com/index.php/neighborhood-politics/26507-to-mayor-bass-fire-raquel-beltran-while-there-s-still-hope-for-the-neighborhood-council-system] Tony sums up much of what we have been saying and lays the responsibility for Beltran's continued existence as GM on the desk of our new mayor.
Tony is not alone. We have been having similar discussions all over the city for months. And just like so many other historical events, the rising tide of negative sentiment seethed and fermented, and is now erupting in response to one historical event (in this case the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council mistreatment by DONE).
Last week, my own neighborhood council board held a special meeting to deal with the issue of DONE's actions with respect to the HSDNC. And then something interesting happened. One of our board members -- somebody who is not involved in citywide alliances or activist committees but has had to deal with DONE shoving bylaws amendments down our throats and other such irritations -- offered a substitute motion that called on the mayor to fire Raquel Beltran.
I should like to point out one other thing about my board. We are a socially, economically, and politically diverse group of people whose main similarity is that we mostly live in the extended neighborhood we call Coastal San Pedro. We have members of both major political parties and those who register as independents, we have people of multiple religious faiths and no particular faith, and we have been racially diverse most of our twenty-plus year existence.
And our neighborhood council discussed and debated the question for an hour and a half, partly to get it right, and partly to strengthen the wording to include other problems that stem from DONE having too much power and using it unwisely.
And in the final tally, we voted 12 - 0 in favor of the motion (1 abstaining).
Here is the "resolved" section. (I will add the "whereas" paragraphs as an addendum at the end, but this is the gist:
"Therefore, the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council thanks Raquel Beltrán, General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), for her service with the City; finds that we can no longer repose confidence in the present General Manager of DONE; requests that Mayor Karen Bass and the City Council appoint an acting General Manager of DONE forthwith; create a negotiated process for finding and appointing a permanent DONE General Manager; and asks all other neighborhood councils to join us in this request.
"The Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council calls on the City Council or its appropriate committee to review these actions by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), and for the Mayor to consider appropriate remedial action regarding DONE.
"The Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council calls on the City to place an immediate moratorium on the use of Exhaustive Efforts by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment."
So that's it.
Allow me to point out that there 4 separate requests which require action by the mayor at least regarding the first 2 items, and may require action by the City Council with respect to others:
1) Remove Beltran as General Manager of DONE
2) Appoint an interim General Manager and create a system by which neighborhood councils will be able to provide input in the appointment of a permanent GM
3) Create an investigation about how the current scandals came to exist
4) Place an immediate moratorium on the use of the practice known as "Exhaustive Efforts," which gives undue power to DONE and has been badly misused. Note that CityWatch has covered the misuse of exhaustive efforts over the past few years through several articles.
I should like to point out that this is not intended to be criticism of the mayor. We are sympathetic to the stresses and concerns she has inherited in this post-Covid era. But we would also like to point out that the city Charter endows neighborhood councils with the right to represent neighborhood concerns to the government, and that there are several thousand Los Angeles residents involved in the neighborhood council system. We hope that the new mayor will offer us an open door and an open mind.
Addendum: The title and whereas paragraphs from the CSPNC motion:
Motion expressing concern at actions by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) in placing the Hollywood Studios Neighborhood Council in “Exhaustive Efforts” and expression of no confidence in leadership of DONE.
Whereas, on February 8, 2023, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) allocated $4,000 of Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council (HSDNC) funds to Sheriff’s Youth Fund through the Exhaustive Efforts process over the objections of duly-elected HSDNC Board members, thereby prompting multiple resignations; and
Whereas, the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), in a letter to the entire Neighborhood Council system explaining actions by DONE following its takeover of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council (HSDNC), claimed that HSDNC should have appealed DONE’s actions, then spent over 500 words justifying those actions, accentuating the futility of any such appeal; and
Whereas, this attitude and these actions are consistent with DONE’s policies and performance over the past several years, wherein DONE inappropriately takes over entire neighborhood councils through a glib use of so-called “EE” (“Exhaustive Efforts”), or handles individual neighborhood council’s problems by issuing restrictions, rules, and regulations that limit all neighborhood councils from exercising the diversity of governance envisioned for them in the City Charter; and
Whereas, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment has, over the past few years, persistently increased control and decreased true service, turning the department’s name into an ironical antithesis of its stance;
There are lots of different ways of saying what CSPNC just said, but most of us find that we are on the same page here, however we express it. We are looking forward to a city government which is less obsessed with suppressing neighborhood council communications, and more willing to hear what we have to say.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])