Friday, January 22, 2010

CityWatchLA - Westwood NC Certified: Becomes LA’s 90th

CityWatch, Jan 22, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 6

When the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners convenes a neighborhood council certification hearing and hundreds of passionate community leaders show up in a standing room only crowd, there is only one course of action and that is to certify the NC and to give them the full support of the city family.

It took five and half hours of presentations, debate and public comment but in the end the Commission agreed, voting unanimously to certify the Westwood Neighborhood Council, making them the 90th active neighborhood council in the city of Los Angeles.

The evening wasn't without controversy and the opponents to the certification were vocal, well-organized, articulate and well-reasoned. But for all of the debate over procedural errors, organizational missteps, and outreach shortcomings, the one simple point they couldn't drive home was why the naysayers had the right to prevent community stakeholders from organizing a neighborhood council and volunteering their time to improve the quality of life in their community.

Ultimately, the simple right to be represented in the neighborhood council system held firm and the applicants prevailed.

Councilman Koretz kicked the proceedings off (Video) by stating that he supports neighborhood councils but then proceeded to qualify that support by calling for community consensus as the necessary foundation for a newly formed neighborhood council.

He referred to the significant polarization in the community as evidence that they weren't ready for a certified neighborhood council, arguing that mediation was required and that the formation of the WWNC should be the conclusion of the consensus building process.

I disagreed and argued that the formation of the Westwood Neighborhood Council is the appropriate beginning of the journey, not the end, and that the process of involving the community, of engaging the many voices and the different perspectives is best facilitated within the structure of a neighborhood council, not as a prerequisite for formation. Apparently BONC agreed.

The idea that civic engagement is dependent on consensus is a flawed paradigm for public participation and denies the true value to be found in spirited discourse in the open marketplace of ideas.

If nothing else, the neighborhood council system is to be credited with stirring period debates over the tyranny of the majority vs. the veto power of the minority.

The public wins in discussions that educate, engage, and ultimately empower the community and it was refreshing to see hundreds of people engaged in a debate over their right to volunteer their time, to organize, and to work together to improve the quality of life in their community.

Speaking in support of the Westwood NC were community leaders from all over the city, demonstrating that as much as each community is unique, they all have a lot in common including the need to work together in order to truly represent the people of Los Angeles.

To this end, seasoned veterans of the NC system from Sunland Tujunga to Coastal San Pedro offered their support as mentors to the Westwood Neighborhood Council.

The Board of Neighborhood Commissioners are to be credited for their stamina and their wisdom and especially for creating an environment that played host to passionate emotions, enthusiastic opinions, and spirited debate.

Board President Michele Siqueiros raised the bar on effective public hearings and proved that, in spite of a lack of consensus, the community can come together and take care of business fairly, diplomatically and effectively.

(Stephen Box is a well known and long-time grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at )

1 comment:

Bob said...

I only recently became aware of the issues related to the formation and certification of the Westwood Neighborhood Council by reading articles in the Times and City Watch LA. But it raises several important issues and lessons learned from the experience:

First one of the opponents of the formation made the statement that the this NC won't represent them. That is like saying Paul Koretz doesn't represent them because they voted for David Vahedi - that isn't sound. The neighborhood council system was put in by the City Charter reform.

The neighborhood council board represents the stakeholders and just like voting for a person to represent you in the City Council, your participation in this democratic process is a factor in determining a successful outcome.

I disagree with the opponents who want to have the option to have a geographic area "opt out" - that isn't fair - but after listening to the debate on video and reading more, I realize that the Pacific Palisades and Brentwood do not have NC's and their HOA's and "Community Council(s)" don't want an NC. If a stakeholder ever does try to start an NC in either of those areas, the answer to the HOA's and CC's should be, show us how strong you are and actively participate in the formation of NC's in within your boundaries.

Finally, I will agree with points made by the opponents of the Westwood NC - don't under-rate the importance of transparency, outreach, and participation. There shouldn't be two sets of communication - public and private. Everything should be done in the open. I cannot say that loud enough and now luckily, the Westwood NC will have an election and will be required to operate under the laws including the Ralph M Brown Act.

All NC's should embrace and fight for keeping the Brown Act in place (don't complain about it or try to weaken it for your own convenience).