ONE MAN’S OPINION - Today Los Angeles stands at a turning point. Whether this is a milestone, climax or watershed moment is yet to be determined. It is a moment at least 20 years in the making. Many say it had its roots in the San Fernando Valley succession vote while others say it would have happened anyway. Valley Vote brought to light many of the problems LA was suffering under in the 90’s but it’s not like the rest of the city wasn’t experiencing issues also. Out of that vote or because of it, Neighborhood Councils were born. If you weren’t living in LA at the time of the new Charter which established the Neighborhood Council System and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, it would be hard to describe how excited we were at the thought of finally getting a seat at the decision-making table. One of the main points that excited us was that the charter ensured each neighborhood council would receive early warning of upcoming city decisions and have the opportunity to be heard.
To say that there haven’t been fits and starts in the process to bring about Neighborhood Councils would be untrue, but through it all some 99 formed and still function across the City. Some members of the public came for a year or two, others got involved and have stayed for the duration. Some are wildly supported by their community while others aren’t. What has not changed are the powers and promises made in the Charter of early warnings of upcoming city decisions (907), the opportunity to be heard and to monitor the delivery of city services in their area (910). Also the ability to submit a formal decision, a Community Impact Statement (CIS) before city Boards and Commissions.
Tragically very little of that has happened during the process of updating the Housing Element and the ongoing process involving changes to Community Plans, the Framework Element, Overlay Zones and the Zoning Code. A total of 10 CIS documents were submitted over a 2-year period. That is a failure of epic proportions, and someone needs to fix it. Mayor Bass has said she would look into the NC system after the director of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) resigned. Looking into DONE is not where this problem lies. Normally I would tell the Mayor that she needs to dive into the Planning department and find out why they have become more secretive than the CIA, but I seriously doubt if anything gets past this Mayor. Mayor Bass is someone who served as the speaker of the California Assembly and was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is used to leadership and how the process works so I doubt if Planning director Vince Bertoni has gone rogue on her. Also it is well known that United Neighbors, along with 30+community groups has communicated with the Mayor’s office and the planning department and worked for over a year to put together a plan at the neighborhood level that would satisfy all the needs of the Housing Element without rezoning residential areas. However, at this point the planning department has shut down all discussions with the group and basically told them to sit on their hands and wait until they are called upon. That is not going to happen. Neighborhood Councils across the city want the seat at the table the Charter promised. They want to be able to put Community Impact Statements and other comments into the system but are being given the run around as to which Council File they should use. Other groups and individuals from block clubs to HOA’s to small businesses and unaffiliated person on the street want to have a voice in this process that will in effect remake the entire city. The original Council File for the Housing Element is 21-1230 and that is probably the best place for everyone to go. Just remember to hit the tab marked NEW on the top left of the screen and follow the instructions to leave a comment.
What the city has done to date is not acceptable. The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog. You cannot take one element of the General Plan, make massive changes to it, and attempt to back every other element into it. You certainly cannot do it in violation of your Charter, Ordinances too numerous to name and existing Community Plans that clearly state that quality of life depends on the adequate provision of infrastructure resources (e.g., transportation, police, fire, water, sewerage, parks, etc.) commensurate with the needs of the population. Upping the amount of housing in residential areas is a recipe for disaster.
So, we are at a turning point and the ball is in play. On one side you have the Mayor, the Council, all the special interest groups, plus the media and on the other, the people. They have all the power and money, but we hold the moral high ground because we live here. These houses and apartments are our homes. These neighborhoods are not locations on a map, to be exploited. They are the places where dreams and hard work met and created livable places to raise our families and grow old. You will not take them from us without a fight.
(James O’Sullivan is the retired ex-president (25 years) and current ex-officio of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. He is Vice President of Fix The City Inc., currently in court with the City over their adoption of the Hollywood Community Plan and pushing the City to be more transparent with RSO units.)