Want More Voters at NC Elections? Demonstrate Ability to Influence City Hall

PERSPECTIVE-Empower LA reported a major uptick in Neighborhood Council election turnout for the San Fernando Valley. Total registrations were 8,270 (that’s the actual headcount), up 59% over 2012. 

Impressive. 

But let’s put it in perspective. 

2012 marks the low point in recent years; so to an extent, the 2014 election turnouts were bouncing off the bottom. NC board members may recall that the Los Angeles City Clerk and the City Council pulled the rug out from under the Neighborhood Councils in 2010. The City Clerk failed to deliver the support they promised to the 2010 elections, blaming a budget cut from $4 million to $1.9 million.  

However, that was no excuse for waiting until the eleventh hour to notify NCs that support would be curtailed. NCs scrambled to assemble an election apparatus at a time when outreach should have been the priority. 

Had just half of the City Clerk’s surviving $1.9 million budget been transferred to DONE to support the election, it would have amounted to around $10,000 per NC, a level that would have allowed a robust, self-directed outreach effort. Instead, the budget was consumed by the Clerk’s over-priced and inefficient services. 

The effect of the 2010 betrayal of Neighborhood Councils by the Clerk and the City Council flowed into the 2012 elections. The NC system was still in limbo about the City Clerk’s role. Had the NCs been left in uninterrupted control of the elections from the get go (with administrative support from DONE), there would have been a mature, well-honed process in place in 2012. 

2012′s turnout dropped by 4.41% from 2010, in part because volunteer NC board members and stakeholders do not have the time and resources to turn on a dime. Turnover in the board ranks complicates matters, too. Therefore, disproportionate time had to be focused on re-learning procedures instead of directed at enhancements. 

All that being said, the Neighborhood Councils in the Valley deserve much credit for clawing back lost participation. 

Drilling down to the ground level, Valley Village had the second highest turnout in Region 4, but very likely the highest per capita turnout. From my personal observations, signage was more visible and prevalent, flyer saturation improved and there was deeper penetration by e-mail notifications and appeals for votes. There was also more candidate and stakeholder involvement. I personally covered 5 miles and the equivalent of 90 flights of stairs passing out flyers. And did I feel it the next day when I was shooting hoops at the gym. 

Elections are the single largest budget item for neighborhood councils. Our one and only mailer cost $8,000 to reach all addresses in Valley Village – and we are among the smallest of councils. Adding to that, cooperative media advertising and supplies may bring the final total to around $10,000. As with other councils, we are allocated a total budget of $37,000. 

One sure way to propel turnout is to have a hot issue. 

That was the case during our mansionization wars in Valley Village. In two successive elections, 900 and 1,000 residents cast ballots. 

It might be a good strategy for NCs to elevate issues to a hot status. 

How about the DWP increases all of us will face in the years to come? That is a direct hit on almost all residents. 

But if we elevate issues, we must also demonstrate to the stakeholders that their votes will have a bearing on the resolutions. That’s the hard part. It will require intense dialog among the NC boards and the elected officials in City Hall. 

I believe NCs are too accommodating of the electeds at times, or at least when it comes to the important stuff. 

Will we be up to it?

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and former NC Valley Village board member and treasurer.  He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com)

–cw

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 25

Pub: Mar 25, 2014