THE EASTSIDER - It seems clear to me that we have passed the point where General Manager Raquel Beltran and her captive, unanimously toadying Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, have crossed the line in twisting a bottom-up input system into something that China’s Xi Jinping would be proud of.
Of course, with our luck, it will probably turn out that Mayor Karen Bass and Raquel Beltran are buddies from one of those touchy feely meetings that policy wonks love. You know, when Beltran ran the League of Women Voters, and Bass was in Congress.
That’s how it rolls when it comes to actually making DONE adhere to the Charter Amendments which established the Neighborhood Council System back in 1999.
The Cliff Beckons
Recently our Bob Gelfand has written a couple of damning CityWatchLA articles delineating how Beltran’s DONE has finally morphed into an authoritarian top down ‘Momma knows best’ perversion of the actual Neighborhood Council system.
Bob’s first article, on February 16, was called A Smoking Gun Held by DONE.
“GELFAND’S WORLD - We've explored many of the inadequacies of the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment over the years, but the latest outrage goes beyond previous bounds. For one thing, it involves $4000 of misappropriated taxpayer funds. For another, it demonstrates the arrogance and ignorance of a city agency which thinks it has the authority to order around people who do not work for it or for the city.
Let's briefly summarize the conditions and then consider a couple of the issues.”
The second article this week, I think was the final straw, showing that DONE is digging in, rather than reversing their transgressions:
“GELFAND’S WORLD - In the previous column of Feb 16, 2023, we discussed problems at the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and the wholesale resignation of the board of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council (HSDNC) in protest of DONE actions. Nine out of the eleven HSDNC board members have now quit. Their reason for quitting was DONE's gross misconduct with respect to their neighborhood council, which involved the inappropriate expenditure of $4000 as well as additional threats by DONE's representative against them. For example, the board members were ordered to attend a private event to be held outside of their district, or else be thrown off their board by DONE.”
I respect Bob Gelfand, who chose to stay within the Neighborhood Council system, reporting on their follies and trying to right the system into the bottom up, volunteer groups of Angelenos trying to hold the City’s feet to the fire. Even as I bailed out to write for CityWatchLA and take advantage of the 1st Amendment :-)
Researching a bit for this article, I came across one of the most authoritarian, disingenuous piles of crap I have ever seen from DONE. It was obviously crafted by Raquel Beltran and passed by her captive BONC Commissioners. I show it here in it’s entirety for your view:
Statement by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners
On Civility and Positive Human Relations in the Neighborhood Council System
February 2, 2021
WHEREAS, the United States has seen a growing number of groups and individuals who threaten our democracy and seek to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in human relations, divide our community, incite hatred, and attack elected leaders; and,
WHEREAS, in these unprecedented times, when so many people are suffering it is both our responsibility and our duty to treat each other with respect, dignity, and love towards each other as humans and Angelenos; and,
WHEREAS, our City and its residents have struggled with the challenges to our health and safety and economy from the pandemic, the protests for racial justice, and misinformation and conspiracy theories spread through social media; and
WHEREAS, the City of Los Angeles has history of struggling with the issues of race, equality, equity and prejudice and is working to address systemic intolerance and racial injustice through the newly formed Los Angeles Civil, Human Rights and Equity Department; and
WHEREAS, with so many of us feeling the pain of loss—of friends, family members, colleagues, jobs, and a sense of security—treating those we work with in our community with sensitivity is needed now more than anytime in the history of the Neighborhood Council System;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners denounces Racism, Bigotry Sexism, Homophobia, Transphobia, White Nationalism, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of Hatred; and
RESOLVED that the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners are committed to empowering Angelenos and building a community of elected volunteer leaders that is unified, where people of different races, religions, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and ethnic backgrounds, can come together and overcome the challenges of the past and create tronger and more inclusive neighborhoods; and
RESOLVED that the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners call on all Neighborhood Council Board members to
promote the peace and prosperity of their community, exercise good judgment and promote good will, seek good accurate information and double check facts, and seek to ensure the prosperity of all of our citizens and respect for one another’s diversity; and
RESOLVED that the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, and the 99 Neighborhood Councils will work to address systemic intolerance and racial injustice with the Los Angeles Civil, Human Rights and Equity Department; and
RESOLVED that Neighborhood Council leaders seek to create safe spaces for discussions based in respect, humility, and gratitude and show leadership by engaging in conversations with stakeholders that promotes a deeper shared
understanding of a more inclusive neighborhood; and
RESOLVED that the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners supports Council File 20-0990 and supports Diversity,
Equity and Inclusion training, and anti-bias training, for members of Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils and will attach this statement in a letter from the Commission addressed to the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor.
I’ll tell you who’s threatening democracy. It’s the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners who were stupid enough to let Beltran use them to stifle democracy. Enough.
As I was writing this article, another Neighborhood Council advocate and CityWatchLA contributor, Mark Dutton, also weighed in on February 20th:
MARK, MY WORDS - Like Sisyphus, the volunteer members of LA Neighborhood Councils are condemned to dutifully push that rock up the mountain against the unrelenting winds of a city council bent on neutering the elected body intended to be the voice of our communities. Manufactured under the guise of assisting community volunteers, the Department Of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) has turned out to be an “agency provocateur” that purposely adds another layer of bureaucracy and confusion in an already dysfunctional and abusive relationship.
On a recent Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils meeting, DONE’s general manager Raquel Beltrán, has solidified suspicions that the department was created as nothing more than a means of enforcing the desires of the LA City Council, and helping them avoid being burdened by the input of those pesky neighborhood representatives and constituents. Perhaps our city council is okay with foisting the job of listening to constituents to another department, but I, as a belabored taxpayer, am not.
The long-established Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (VANC) would be a logical option to represent and support the needs of NCs throughout the valley, but the city has instead once again, plunged its ladle into their bottomless pot of idiot stew where it overcooks reasonable ideas, and serves up bowls of exorbitantly expensive obstructionism. In case you haven’t noticed, the LA City Council, not being allowed to subvert the democratic process altogether, simply creates dysfunctional bureaucracies that seem reasonable in words, but in deed, only drain taxpayer coffers while accomplishing next to nothing. How next to nothing? By design, few know the details and any data that is shared with the public is whitewashed.
Bob and Mark are both reputable people (as in honest brokers); Neighborhood Council activists who have tried everything they can to get the deaf to hear, so I think that their latest writings describe a system that simply no longer functions.
You would think that Raquel Beltran, authoritarian that she is, would at least have the smarts to understand the San Fernando Valley went for Rick Caruso big time in the recent Mayoral race. Note to Mayor Bass - she’s your appointee, even as she stokes the coals of insurrection. Want a second term?
At this moment in time, we know two things to be true regarding the Neighborhood Council System. First, Raquel Beltran is proving to be a neofascist in sheep’s clothing, perverting the Initiative creating Neighborhood Councils. Second, Mayor Karen Bass is paying no attention to DONE’s doings as Beltran turns an all-volunteer system on its very head.
Even as Beltran personally brings in big bucks. In 2021, she brought in $197,629.20 in regular pay, “other pay” of $6000, and Benefits to the tune of $80,000. The total was $284,589.20, according to the Controller’s Office.
If the Mayor is incapable of getting rid of Raquel Beltran, replacing her and the current Board of Neighborhood Commissioners with grassroots volunteer people from the Neighborhood Councils themselves, I think it’s time to repeal the entire Neighborhood Council System as a bad dream. Any takers?
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)