Fri, Jul

Neighborhood Councils Should Not Be Rubber Stamps


PERSPECTIVE - Paul Koretz, in an article published by CityWatch, made a case for the importance of deliberation.  He was referring to his role as a City Council Member, but his remarks apply equally well to neighborhood councils.


Concerning the debate in his district over mansionization, he stated:

I could have unilaterally sought changes to zoning rules in this neighborhood — the law and City Council system certainly allow me to do so — but I did not. That’s because I firmly believe in dialoging and working with constituents and constituent organizations in order to maximize public input and grassroots involvement.

In other words, I am a proponent of having a process in which people from the community are invited to participate and be heard. The fact is public-participation leads to better proposals and better results.

Neighborhood councils are regularly approached by groups representing various causes. In many cases, presentations are made with the goal of informing  board members about specific issues.  The input is welcome and, if appropriate, considered at a later date when or if action is required.

Sometimes, a motion has to be expedited.  That was the case with Measure B.  The City Council rushed it to the ballot leaving the neighborhood councils little time to act.

Occasionally, though, some groups push for a motion right then and there even when there is no immediate need for one. It is as if no other side should be heard and nothing else matters.

I already discussed [link] the Sierra Club’s attempt to have Neighborhood Council Valley Village push a motion through in support of no coal by 2020. The presenter cited the opinion of a consulting group engaged by the Sierra Club that claimed the city could transition completely away from coal by that year without a measurable rate impact on DWP’s customers.

One must take the claims made by consultants engaged by interest groups with a healthy dose of skepticism, as we did with the research results of scientists hired by tobacco companies claiming second-hand smoke was harmless.

If getting off coal by 2020 could be accomplished with little or no effect on rates, there would be little or no opposition to the objective.  However, no one really knows the answer at this point. It makes no sense to buy into a long-term strategy when there is little certainty as to the cost.

Besides, coal is not the only utility related issue on our plate. A 9% sewer rate increase is being sought for each of the next ten years.  There are valid reasons why the charges should increase, but are you willing to support giving the Bureau of Sanitation carte blanche for that large an increase, year after year?

One neighborhood council did just that after hearing a presentation by the BOS staff. Even though a motion was not requested, the NC passed one. Thank goodness that council’s board members do not negotiate rates with the DWP.

For the record, Jack Humphreville and I listened to the presentation in a meeting we had with key staff members of the bureau.  Kudos to them for a very informative session, but buying into a ten-year plan will require vigorous public debate.

There will also be pressure to increase water rates to support important reclamation efforts.

The size of our utility bills might eventually make the mortgage crisis tame by comparison.  It does not do much good to make your house payment if you cannot afford the utilities.

You cannot take utility components as one-off issues.  They are all important and must be considered as a whole.  Flushing the toilet and drawing water are as important as reducing reliance on coal. Ratepayers must be protected from a perfect storm of across-the-board increases, whatever the reasons. Compromises must be made and priorities set…and re-set as conditions change over time.
It is pretentious of certain groups to assume their goals override all others.

It’s not just utilities; it can be any issue.

Neighborhood councils should avoid jumping on bandwagons and passing feel-good motions. Be wary of pleas from influential activists, official representatives or lobbyists who would rather have us throw caution to the wind and sidestep sensible due diligence.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as Treasurer for the Neighborhood Council Valley Village.  He blogs at Village to Village and can be reached at:  [email protected] ) –cw

Tags: Paul Koretz, neighborhood councils, Sierra Club, mansionization, City Council, interest groups, DWP, Jack Humphreville

Vol 9 Issue 48
Pub: June 17, 2011

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