CityWatch, June 15, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 48
RETHINKING LA - Neighborhood Councils face an uphill battle as they
attempt to fulfill their City Charter mandate to engage the public and
advise City Hall, after all, they typically meet once a month while the
City Council meets three times a week, making it tough to keep track of
the issues and resulting legislation.
Even the members of City Council, complete with dedicated staff and
departmental liaisons, find it tough to keep up with the logjam of
legislation, resulting in cries of “What are we voting on?” in a process
that allows inaction to count as an affirmative vote.
all, Neighborhood Councils are expected to monitor the delivery of city
services and keep the public engaged in the process, a Sisyphean
responsibility that challenges the capacity of the volunteer-driven
Neighborhood Council system.
This prompts the question: “Can Neighborhood Councils keep up with the City of LA?”
the City is serious about encouraging feedback from Neighborhood
Councils, here are three things they can do to facilitate participation.
Plan ahead. Motions that have been simmering for years suddenly spring
on to an agenda, leaving Neighborhood Councils 72 hours to wade through
15 pages of agenda to find the item and then mobilize and communicate
with City Hall.
Councils can file Community Impact Statements on
the general topic (“We like sidewalks!”) well in advance of the
agendized legislation but the final action will typically have
specificity (“Homeowners will pay for repairs by deferring costs until
the property is sold.”) that defies official Neighborhood Council Board
action. Volunteers that meet every month can’t respond to 72 hour notice
with a Community Impact Statement that addresses the most recent
iteration of long-simmering legislation.
must get better notice when agenda items such as the Hollywood Community
Plan are going to appear on the City Council agenda, especially if they
have been in the process for years, so that community members can be
involved in the journey all the way to the finish line.
to the schedule. City Council agenda items are typically a moving target
on agendas that are jammed with the full range of legislation, ranging
from the sublime to the ridiculous. On some days, arriving a few minutes
late means a wasted trip downtown. On others days, arriving on time
means sitting for hours, never sure when a specific item will come up
for comment and action.
The business of the people is important
enough to schedule so that the public can participate without having to
give up a day’s work for a minute’s commentary. The public’s ability to
participate depends on the City Council treating the public with respect
and the public’s time is a valuable asset that should not be squandered
through sloppy management or underhanded machination.
3. Set a
good example. Neighborhood Council leaders learn from the City Council,
the Committees and the Commission. When members of the public are
interrupted during public comment, it sets a bad example. When the
public is required to sign in, a violation of the Brown Act, it sets a
bad example. When the public is treated to agendas that are impossible
to read, it sets a bad example.
If the City Council is serious
about supporting Neighborhood Councils and engaging the public in the
process, they will set an example by communicating well in advance,
welcoming people to council chambers, offering informative agendas, and
by listening during public comment, not interrupting or, even worse,
As for the question, “Can Neighborhood Councils
keep up?” the answer is yes, if the City Council is willing to partner
with Neighborhood Councils in communication, organization, and respect.