CityWatch, Pub: Aug 18, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 66
When it comes to political office, “Locals Only!” is still the equalizing hurdle that all candidates must jump and “home address” is still the most significant element on that political resume.
It makes sense. After all, how can one purport to represent people in a district or city without actually residing locally, tripping over the same busted sidewalks, crossing the same congested streets, sending kids to the same schools, suffering the same miserable cable service, experiencing the same impact of development, shopping at the same stores, seeing the same people and engaging in the same conversations.
Of course, our leadership is rarely at home. They typically spend long hours at City Hall or traveling to Sacramento or to Washington or on junkets around the world.
Villaraigosa could balance the City’s Budget just by cashing in his frequent flyer miles. LaBonge’s endorsement deal with the Sister City program regularly takes him on trips around the world. Zine and Weiss recently traveled to the Mid-East to study security while Smith traveled to Canada, Japan, Israel, France, Germany and Spain to study rubbish. Hahn spent some time on the East Coast serving as the spokesmodel for LA’s ports while Garcetti’s luggage picked up tags from all over the country as he worked to “bring it home.”
But I digress. The fact is, the leadership of LA is very busy... leading! That often means that they are gone, out of town, elsewhere, very busy “making it happen” and that’s when the residency issue fades. The fact of the matter is, they all live at the Ritz or the Four Seasons or the W.
If the local communities that make up LA are to be represented by people who live, work, shop, drive, socialize, engage, connect, assimilate and relate to the neighborhood, it’s probably more important to require all Council District staff to be local residents.
Current Council District operating styles vary from district to district but they essentially follow the basic paradigm. A Council District Chief of Staff and a team (pod, herd, mob, clowder, flock...) of Deputies “run” constituent services for the district, essentially serving as ombudsmen and ombudswomen for the District.
Constituents call the Planning Deputy to report missing Community Plans and they call the Transportation Deputy to report missing crosswalks and missing bike lanes. They call the “Sorry, we’re in the middle of a budget crisis and there’s nothing we can do!” Deputy if they need an excuse for why something’s wrong in the neighborhood and they see the same chirpy Deputies bounce into Community Meetings to give announcements on the brilliant work being done by the Councilmember on behalf of the community.
Imagine if they actually lived in the Council District!
1) An unnamed City Council President was taken to task for some issues in the area around his field office. In a meeting, he responded to the criticism, but not by defending himself. In fact he didn’t even perceive the criticism as an attack on his performance. Instead, he spoke in defense of the Deputy responsible for the area and spoke of her hard work and commitment. From where he sat, the buck was not his, it stopped with the Deputy. Saddest of all, the measure of success was intention, not result.
Ultimately, if the Deputies for the Councilmembers are to truly serve the community and to truly represent the Councilmembers, it is imperative that they hear the noise at night, that they see the broken streetlights after dark, that they experience the traffic on the weekend, that they know where to shop and how to get to the park and how hard it is for the kids to walk or ride to school. Most of all, their enthusiasm for improving the quality of life in the community needs to be personal, not simply a desire to serve the Councilmember and then to jump into a car to drive to another district and perhaps another city.
2) Hiring local would reduce traffic. The Local Deputy could walk, ride a bike, take mass transit. This would result in a massive reduction in transpo expenses that the public is responsible for covering. Objections such as “Mass Transit doesn’t work!” or “This really isn’t a safe place to walk or ride!” can now be put on the table and addressed with the enthusiasm that only locals can provide.
3) Hiring local would improve the local economy. The Local Deputy could experience the frustration of shopping locally, supporting the local businesses, conducting quotidian business, all in an environment where the basic function of the streets is to serve as a traffic sewer, not a robust artery that draws life to the community. Planning discussions would take on a completely different tone if the proposed development were at the end of the Planning Deputy’s street.
4) Hiring local would result in an interesting element to public safety accountability. No longer would those crime reports be statistical and would community discussions be academic. Local Deputies would bring public safety to a personal level, where it belongs!
5) Hiring local would give grass roots politics a new level of access if local representatives were more than simply “walking commercials” for the Councilmember but were also active stakeholders in the community. There are already great examples of Neighborhood Council boardmembers who are active in City Council offices and visa versa. This would then become the norm, not the exception.
If this began to feel as if the Deputy was serving two masters, it would allow us to confront the real issue. Sometimes a Councilmember is not moving in the direction of the community and when this happens, it needs to be addressed quickly by the public.
6) Hiring local gives the city an intimate and immediate evaluation of the housing situation. When those who work for LA can’t afford to live in LA, there’s something dramatically wrong.
7) Hiring local has a positive impact on the major issues that come up in any campaign, in any community meeting and in any day in the neighborhood. Having local Deputies that live in the community will have a positive impact on Transportation, Public Safety, Housing, Education, and the Economy.
Ultimately, the very objections Councilmembers are likely to offer in rejecting a “hire local” mandate are also indictments of their performance.
Based on results, often harsh but always fair, a Councilmember who offers up excuses for not hiring local is also offering up a list of their failures
“Requiring a Deputy to live in the district is impossible because of the cost of housing.”
We know all about it, we live here.
“Requiring a Deputy to live local and to give up the vehicle allowance and reimbursement is impractical. They need to get around efficiently and effectively.”
We know all about it, we travel these same streets.
“Requiring a Deputy to live local means they wouldn’t be able to ‘clock-out’ and go home after a hard day at work. They’d always be visible and accessible!”
We know all about it but our problems are 24 hr and our support is 9 to 5. We’re visible and we’re accessible and we never go on the clock, we just work to improve our communities. We want Deputies who are visible and accessible!
“Requiring a Deputy to live local would deprive them of their freedom to make their own choices.”
We know all about good choices and that’s why we chose to live where we live, that’s why we work where we work, and that’s why we’re involved in making our community a better place for everybody.
If living in our community isn’t a “good choice” for the Deputy, perhaps that Deputy is not a good choice for the community.
More importantly, if a Councilmember can’t stand up and say with pride, “My District is such a great place that my Deputies all insist on living local, working local, shopping local, educating their children local and becoming a real part of the local community!” then that Councilmember has failed.
The City of LA needs City Council Candidates who will stand before the community and say with confidence that they intend to work with such effectiveness and success that their Deputies will all choose to live in the District that they serve.
Who will be the first City Councilmember to proudly lead a “locally organized, locally operated” Council District.
Who will be the first CD2 Councilmember Candidate to stand up and declare “live local, work local” as the foundation of their vision for leading their Council staff.
(Stephen Box writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net) ◘