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Neighborhood Councils: Democracy or Crap?

by Hieronymous D Friday, Apr. 06, 2001 at 8:22 AM

Per the new L.A. City Charter (1999), we will have Neighborhood Councils, for better or for worse. The activist community in L.A., which seems to be gaining momentum, is perhaps the only constituency that can stop these councils from becoming a total sham.

I've been to a few meetings now of a group in the Silverlake/LosFeliz/Atwater Village/Franklin Hills area. This is a sort of rag-tag coalition of a number of community organizations who have come together from a neighborhood council. Their meetings are not well publicized. The meetings consist almost exclusively of people who belong to existing groups: the Silverlake Residents Association, the Atwater Village Improvement Association, the Los Feliz Chamber of Commerce, etc. And now for the disturbing part: these groups want seats on this neighborhood council to be set aside for them. Not elected, not voted in -- appointed. If this sounds anti-democratic to you, then you're not alone.

Per the 1999 City Charter, Los Angeles must now establish a citywide system of neighborhood councils. The rules for neighborhood councils are rather vague, and as they have not yet been finalized, the details seem to fluctuate on a weekly basis. But the skinny is basically this: areas of the city, each of which must consist of at least 20,000 people, shall somehow or other put together a neighborhood council to represent the "stakeholders" in their community. "Stakeholders" are defined as anyone who lives, or works, or owns property in, or does just about anything in, that particular community. How the prospective council must demonstrate that it is indeed inclusive seems to still be under debate. But eventually, the grouping of people must apply to the city's Department of Neighborhood Councils (DONE) to be certified. If the city certifies them, then voila, there's your neighborhood council.

Clearly certain parts of the city will move much faster on this than others. This conflagration of Silverlake, Los Feliz, Atwater and Franklin Hills -- which for the moment is calling itself the Greater Griffith Neighborhood Council -- is an atcive bunch, and hence is on its way to being ready to apply for certification this summer. Only problem is, existing community organizations, and the Chambers of Commerce in these areas, are pushing for "set-asides" on this neighborhood council. They want seats permanently reserved for members of their organizations. And as these meetings have thusfar consisted almost exclusively of members of these organizations, mine has often been the only dissenting voice willing to stand up for a truly democratic process.

If you live, work, or do basically anything in Silverlake, Los Feliz, Atwater Village, Franklin Hills, or Griffith Park, YOU are a stakeholder, and YOU have a say in the construction of this Neighborhood Council just as much as anyone else at these meetings. If there is a vote, you will have a vote to cast, simply by virtue of being there and being a stakeholder. I urge you to get involved. These Councils could provide a great opportunity for young activists like us to get involved in local governance; not to mention the benefits to the community of more local control. It could be a good thing, if we seize these reigns of power. But if we do nothing, we can all but rest assured that the status quo will co-opt this opportunity as well.

If you'd like to participate in local governance in the "Greater Griffith" area, and help to keep it real, then please come to one or more of these meetings:

Greater Griffith Neighborhood Council

Governance Committee Meeting

(this is where they'll determine the rules of the council)

Saturday, April 7, 1:00 pm

@ CD 13 Office -- 3535 Sunset Boulevard

Greater Griffith Neighborhood Council

Outreach Committee Meeting

Monday, April 9, 7:30 pm

@ Eat Well -- 3916 Sunset Blvd.

Greater Griffith Neighborhood Council

General Meeting

Monday, April 23, 7:30 pm

(LOCATION TBA; e-mail me and I'll let you know when I know)

These meetings are not hugely attended. Even four or five people could make a tremendous difference. Hope to see you there.

-- Derek

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