To Neighborhood Councils:  Now is the Time to Stand Up and Fix This City

LA POLITICAL SCANDAL - With every crisis comes an opportunity. The City of Los Angeles is undergoing the worst political crisis we have seen in decades.

Calls for reform are ringing from Harbor Gateway to Porter Ranch and every city block in between. The most dangerous place in Los Angeles right now is between a politician and the nearest microphone as the scramble to denounce three politicians for their racist anti-– everyone hatred and bile is well underway.  In a cynical ploy, current and former elected leaders are rushing to stand on the political corpse of their friends and former colleagues because they believe it will make them appear taller. These politicians all want us to believe that they have never heard comments similar to those by the now-former councilwoman Nury Martinez that was caught on tape. They are shocked, shocked at the brass knuckle politics that was taking place behind closed doors, so much so that they are demanding immediate change.

The people of Los Angeles have reason to be skeptical; we have seen this play out before.

The "shock," "outrage," and "disappointment" expressed by our elected leaders at the unethical behavior of another elected leader is as predictable as the corruption itself. The faux outrage requires us to suspend the belief that this corruption and deceit has been taking place so long and so out in the open that they could get caught in the first place. This also requires us to set aside the history of lies, deceit, manipulation, and outright corruption that has occurred so freely that these people had every reason to believe they would never get caught. But none of this is new.  If the FBI public corruption division had to spend any more time in Los Angeles City Hall, we could charge them rent. 

The dominoes in the former jailbird/City Council member Mitch Englander's corruption fiasco continue to fall, with former councilman Jose Huizar's brother only the latest one to plead guilty in an ongoing City Hall corruption case. Mark Ridley Thomas is going to trial in November and Huizar himself goes on trial in February. The head of the LADWP has pled guilty to bribery. Englander was so comfortable with his corruption that he got caught taking bribes from developers in bathrooms in a Las Vegas casino, because if there's one place that is not known for good security and lots of cameras (ie evidence gathering equipment), it's a Las Vegas casino. 

How well-known is it that the City Council is in the pocket of developers? I literally used to have the ringtone for "the Muppet show" assigned to city council members because they were openly viewed as puppets for developers. It was an inside joke that most of my neighborhood council brethren were keenly aware of, my way of silently extending the middle finger to the system I was forced to work with. 

We all know Martinez got caught on tape casually being a racist and trying to chop up the city based on disenfranchising entire swaths of Angelino's with other City Council members and a labor leader, but notice how freely she spoke? We are supposed to believe this was all new? We are supposed to believe that a guarded politician never routinely spoke like this in front of her colleagues except for this very one time? That nobody else on the City Council, including those so outraged today, ever heard this or heard any sign of this? That may be true for specific targeted racist behavior but it strains the limits of credibility to believe that the overarching and more concerning power grab to the benefit of other City Council members was done in a vacuum, and history, and common sense, warns us that it probably was not.

This is all disgusting, and now we are supposed to believe that the rest of these people are going to come to the rescue and fix it.

There is very little trust between the people and City Hall, and for good reason. We should look at any attempt by any elected leader to step in and "fix" the corruption with skeptical eyes, and to those elected leaders who may be reading this, don't take it personally; we've had bad experiences. If the remaining powers at City Hall truly want to fix the corruption, they can include the people of Los Angeles via the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council system in the decision-making process. 

The Department Of Neighborhood Empowerment has really become an oxymoron. There has been very little empowerment taking place since the neighborhood councils took on the Department of Water and Power many years ago. In fact, as a leader of that movement, I have often said that we became a victim of our own success. We demonstrated to city leaders what was accomplishable when the Neighborhood Councils banded together and that scared them to their core. What has happened since is these civilian volunteers have been placed under very tight-knit rules that our paid elected leaders refuse to follow. 

It is time to empower the Neighborhood Councils with some actual decision-making and a real voice in the process, and it starts with reforming the city charter to rip some of that power away from City Hall and start bringing it down to the individual neighborhoods. The Neighborhood Council system should demand nothing less, and it begins with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and each individual Neighborhood Councilmember to demand a seat at the table and reform this city once and for all.

(Jim Alger is the Former President NWNC and Former Delegate/Vice Chair LANCC.  Contact Jim:  [email protected])