‘Best Practices’ for Neighborhood Councils: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is!

ALPERN AT LARGE--One of the most sacred parts of the trust between government and its constituents (or, restated, the citizenry which is SUPPOSED to be the #1 constituency) is how government spends its money. 


At the federal, state, and local levels, the ire of taxpayers has for time immemorial been focused on perceived or real mismanagement of public funds. 

And it’s no different with neighborhood councils.  

Neighborhood councils have been entrusted with funds that started with $50,000 per year, and which have gone down and then back up based on the financial circumstances in the City of Los Angeles.  

In theory, the funding should go to outreach and operations of a neighborhood council, which is advisory in nature and does not truly "govern" a given region. 

However, public funds are public funds, and it's up to neighborhood councils to weigh in with their expenditures more than ever--particularly when the City has done such a lousy job creating winners and losers with public funding.  

The biggest losers have been the taxpayers, who have virtually no representation with public sector unions and development-related issues that affect how taxes and City resources will be spent and administered.  

So, when a few of us at the Mar Vista Community Council, certainly including yours truly, weighed in on throwing $10,000 for "seed money" to redo a critical and vital alley in Downtown Mar Vista, or to start the ball rolling to expedite a few critical sidewalks near schools and other critical locations in Mar Vista, the reaction was two-fold by our constituents: 

1) This is NONSENSE that neighborhood councils should pay this money when it should come from the City! 

2) Practically, this is the only way that these local infrastructure projects will be done, so thanks! 

Both responses were correct. It's inexcusable, terrible, and entirely inappropriate that neighborhood councils should throw out some bucks when the City should be taking the lead on these in a timely fashion. 

However, practically and pragmatically, when the seething anger subsides, the pragmatic advice of "putting your money where your mouth is" takes over and truly UNDERLINES and EMPHASIZES how strongly that neighborhood council advises the City and its local council district. 

It should be mentioned that these expenditures were both virtually or UNANIMOUS in being approved by the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), and the projects were only performed after the CD11 office of Councilmember Mike Bonin and the LADOT evaluated and agreed to the rest of the projects, which was by far more than $10,000.  

And there should be, and will be, an attempt for signage as part of "outreach" for the MVCC to show how its money and resources was spent. 

But it's to be considered that the MVCC performed "best practices" by guiding the council district and city resources towards safety and mobility improvements.  

And perhaps it’s ALSO to be considered that each neighborhood council should have as a $10,000 portion of its budget to be assigned strictly for recommended infrastructure projects (such as alleys or crosswalks) that would be approved by the City and local council district after the recommendations were inspected and reviewed for cost-effectiveness and urgency/priority. 

If we want to tell City Hall how to spend our money, then putting our money where our collective mouth is would hardly be revolutionary as a concept.  

And the concept of grassroots guiding of how public money is spent is probably long overdue in the City of the Angels, which has gotten so used to misspending public funds that it's been forgotten Downtown that such a practice is NOT appropriate.


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)