Fri, Jan

Are LA's Budget Advocates Really Illegitimate?

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment has declared the Budget Advocates an illegitimate organization because it does not appear in the City Charter. I beg to differ. 

The Los Angeles City Charter Article IX, Sec. 909. Annual City Budget Priorities states: “Each neighborhood council may present to the Mayor and Council an annual list of priorities for the City budget. The Mayor shall inform certified neighborhood councils of the deadline for submission so that the input may be considered in a timely fashion.” 

The Charter specifically does not state that these neighborhood councils could not delegate people to act on their behalf. 

In fact, Mayor Hahn quickly realized how cumbersome and logistically difficult it would be for each neighborhood council to meet with the Mayor to present (note that the Charter says “present” not submit or give or send) their list of priorities. 

In September of 2003, he first sent out a survey to solicit input from the Neighborhood Councils.  Then he met with budget representatives from around the City on October 9 in the Mayor’s Budget Process session at Congress.  

The formation of the Budget Advocates may have been at his instigation, and there was ongoing discussion about whether they should be called the Mayor’s Budget Advocates. And while Mayor Villaraigosa did try to take control, ultimately the Budget Advocates themselves wanted independence and to represent the interests of the Neighborhood Councils from which they came, and so became the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates. 

These early delegates swiftly evolved into a group of people willing and able to address the complexities of the City’s budget. A group which was formalized and recognized by the Mayor, the City Council, the Budget and Finance Committee, the City departments and, most importantly, by the Neighborhood Councils as representing the interests of the stakeholders of Los Angeles. 

Early on, their obligation as set forth by Mayor Hahn was simply to prioritize categories in safety, livability, mobility, and economic development based on a somewhat simplistic survey. Clearly the Mayor felt that by sticking to the letter of the City Charter requesting a list from the Neighborhood Councils, the City was fulfilling its obligations under the Charter.  

But that was not empowerment. It was not promoting public participation in government. And it was not making City government more responsive to the people who elected them. Furthermore, it was clear that the Budget Advocates more than had the level of understanding necessary to advise and advocate for the fiscal interests of all Angelenos. 

The Budget Advocates began doing deeper dives into the City’s budget and its departments so they could make more constructive recommendations to the Mayor and City Council. 

With the evisceration of City services and staff in the wake of the Great Recession, more and more Angelenos wanted to have a stronger say on the city’s budget and what services should be prioritized. 

About ten years ago, the Budget Advocates became more structured with formalized Bylaws and twice-monthly meetings under the leadership of Jay Handal, the then-current Chair. 

In 2011, Bill Rosendahl and Paul Krekorian presented a motion (CF 11-0228) to allow key members of the Budget Advocates to present to the full City Council. The motion states: 

According to Charter Section 909, each neighborhood council may present to the Mayor and Council an annual list of priorities for the City budget. As the number of neighborhood councils has steadily increased over the last ten years, their members have become increasingly involved in the City's annual budget process. There are currently 14 Budget Advocates, 7 Budget Advocate/ Alternates and 184 Budget Representatives representing over 92 neighborhood councils around the City. (Note that Budget Advocates represented the seven planning regions prior to the establishment of DONE’s twelve service regions.) 

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates are charged with reviewing and commenting on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, prior to its official release by the Mayor on April 20th. These budget advocates have devoted a great deal of time and effort in familiarizing themselves with the City's budget process. 

Does the forgoing sound like there is any question that the Budget Advocates are a legitimate and respected City organization? I think not. 

Furthermore, the Charter is a living document and, especially in Article IX, anticipated growth and change over time. To say Neighborhood Councils cannot meet by Zoom because Zoom did not exist when the Charter was passed would be patently foolish.  

As is the General Manager’s claim that the Budget Advocates are not a legitimate group because they were not explicitly written into the Charter. 

For the record, under the Charter, the General Manager’s duties seem to be limited to appointing, discharging, and prescribing the duties of department staff, consistent with the civil service provisions of the Charter.  

And if the Budget Advocates are illegitimate, so are all of the Alliances since only the concept of a Congress is set forth in the Charter.  

What would happen if these – VANC, WRAC, SLAANC, LANCC, NCSA, HANC and the most recent, LGBTQ+ – were all to be so summarily dismissed?


(Liz Amsden is an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. As a Budget Advocate, she has written extensively on the City’s budget and services. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today’s world.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.