Yes, the Neighborhood Councils Can Keep Up

EMPOWERMENT WATCH - I anxiously await each edition of CityWatch mainly to read the timely and on-point commentaries by Stephen Box.  

After each one I want to write a column that amplifies his efforts to improve our neighborhood council system, but I can’t keep up.  Ah, if only CityWatch would become a monthly publication.  

Last Friday, Box had a piece published entitled “Can LA’s Neighborhood Councils Keep Up?” The answer is yes they can, but one of two actions will be required.  

Either the City Council needs to decide that it wants to make it easier for participatory democracy to exist in Los Angeles and start making changes, or the councils need to shake off the timidity that has kept them from reaching their potential as a dynamic political force, and give the City Council no choice but to open up its doors.

Box wrote that City Hall needs to give the councils more than 72 hours to read, understand, discuss, and take positions on agenda items.

He’s absolutely right.  In 2003, a task force of Neighborhood Council members and city officials recommended over a dozen policy and rule changes that would start adding some definition to the vague Early Warning provision in the City Charter that guarantees Neighborhood Councils enough time to weigh in on decisions before they are made.  That includes actions by commissions.

Six of the recommendations were adopted by the Education and Neighborhoods Committee (CF  03-0157), but was sent to the Rules and Elections Committee where council president and committee chair Alex Padilla let it die without ever placing it on the agenda.

Using those recommendations as a base, Neighborhood Council leaders could develop an updated package, and mobilize its thousands of board members and friends to demand approval.

There have been so many important actions, such as the placement of ballot measures on the City Council agenda at the last minute for the purpose of eliminating meaningful public input, that the Neighborhood Councils would be wise to gather up its attorneys and design a hardball strategy to enforce the Early Warning guaranty.

Box explained that there isn’t even enough time for councils to submit Community Impact Statements.  That also is true, but the first step should be to get the City Council to put the statements back on its agendas.

Initially, the first 100-word statement from any Neighborhood Council was printed on the agenda for the world to see and for history to record.  No commission promoted the printing of the statements on its agendas.

After a while, the City Council stopped printing the statements even though the City Clerk said it did not create a burden.  

After the Neighborhood Council Review Commission met for two years one of its recommendations was for the City Council and commissions to go a couple steps further and print on its agendas ALL the statements received from neighborhood councils.

The City Council’s action was a blow for the promotion of public participation.  Returning to the old procedure wouldn’t cost a penny.

And Box pointed out the age-old problem of City Council members ignoring public speakers who take time away from their work or lives to address their elected officials for two minutes.

A few years ago, a creative attorney videotaped the City Council fiddling around while he was addressing them, and he secured a judicial order requiring the members to pay attention.

Neighborhood Council members could have a brainstorming session and plot an equally innovative course of action, and society would be indebted to them.

(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at -cw

Tags: Greg Nelson, Stephen Box, Neighborhood Councils, Los Angeles, City Hall, City Council, Community Impact Statements

Vol 10 Issue 49
Pub: June 19, 2012