CityWatch, Jan 27, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 8
The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment convened the first of three NC Town Halls this past Saturday, drawing approximately 50 community leaders to the Valley Civic Center for a session that was heavy on speakers but light on content.
Rita Robinson, GM of the Department of Transportation, was the headliner and her casual style drew positive comments from the audience. Dismissing pessimists and optimists alike, Robinson urged the community to partner with her as realists saying "We are a city in crisis, we are a nation in crisis, but it's also a time of great opportunity. Our challenge is figuring a way to work together to put our money to the best use possible."
Robinson opened the room up for public comment and literally the entire room rose, causing traffic jams at both microphones. NC reps immediately went local, very local, addressing specifics to their neighborhoods that demonstrated the huge chasm between City Hall's high-altitude bombing approach to transportation and the reality on the streets.
A pastor of local church spoke of a 20% reduction in attendance as a result of the recent adjustment in parking policies in his neighborhood, eliciting from Robinson, "I'm all in favor of folks going to church, Heaven knows we need the prayer!" She promised to look into the local issue of street parking as well as the many other red curb, left-turn, debris-in-the-street, misplaced-transit-stops local issues that help the focus of the attending representatives.
There were a couple of speakers who went a bit more global, such as August Steurer, PLUM Chair from Woodland Hills Warner Center, who pointed out that as the community works so hard to address land use issues, it's tough to advise on Planning and Development if the local community doesn't know what's going on with Transportation. He urged the department to join with Planning in early notification of local work and projects so that they can be integrated.
The event was initially billed as a Neighborhood Council "Valley Training Day" but somewhere along the line, it shifted into a Town Hall meeting.
Councilmembers Richard Alarcon, Wendy Greuel and Dennis Zine opened the session, all professing their love for Neighborhood Councils and all managing to lay down a foundation of "budget crisis" along with a dose of "lower your expectations, 'cause we're out of money."
Councilman Alarcon spoke of the Council File Motion and expressed his commitment to working with Neighborhood Councils to make sure that it became a viable mechanism for NC involvement in City Government. Councilwoman Greuel informed the attendees that Angelinos spend an average of 93 hours a year in traffic, forgetting that this same crowd probably spends an average of 94 hours a year listening to reports on traffic, all while waiting for a couple of minutes at the microphone. Councilman Zine spoke of his world travels, admonishing the crowd to lower their expectations. "I've traveled all over the world and, in comparison, it's not so bad here!"
Commissioner Al Abrams, Isaias Cantu of the City Clerk's office and Vivian Swanigan of the City Attorney's office all took a turn at the carefully choreographed and well-timed session, complete with "Wrap it Up" cue cards and featuring Gong-Show enforcement, delivering what could be best described as a living bulletin full of announcements.
BongHwan Kim, GM of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, speaking under the same stopwatch pressure as the others, explained that the heads of departments throughout the City have complained "We just don't know how to relate to Neighborhood Councils. We have a lot of information that we need to communicate but we don't know how." (Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCretive.net)