(this article was copied from the LA Times website)
The majority of city commissioners appointed by Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn live in the wealthiest parts of the city, while poor neighborhoods are supplying few of the members for the civilian panels that help govern the city, a Times analysis has found.
The disparity is so significant that the five poorest City Council districts combined are home to fewer commissioners than the richest one alone.
A computer-generated map of the residences of the 114 commissioners Hahn has appointed since taking office illustrates that the administration's appointees reside mostly in the Santa Monica Mountains and well-to-do areas of the northwest San Fernando Valley. Poorer communities in the northeast Valley, South Los Angeles and the central city have few representatives on the citizen boards. Only five commissioners live in South-Central Los Angeles, an area near where Hahn grew up and where his father served as a county supervisor for decades.
So far, Hahn has appointed only about one-third of his commissioners, and said that he hopes to reach out to poorer areas as he continues to staff the civilian panels.
The makeup of those commissions is important in part because it represents one way in which mayors engage the public in the job of running city government and reach out to neglected areas. Indeed, geographic diversity is considered so important in effectively representing L.A. that the new City Charter, passed in 1999, mandates that mayors seek to achieve it. According to the charter, "The mayor . . . shall strive to make his or her overall appointments to appointed boards, commissions or advisory bodies . . . reflect the diversity of the city, including, but not limited to, communities of interest, neighborhoods, ethnicity, race, gender, age and sexual orientation."
Still, Hahn, who won overwhelming support from South-Central during last year's mayoral campaign, has not drawn heavily on his home neighborhoods or other poor communities for key city positions.
He is not the first mayor to lean heavily on wealthier communities for his commission appointments. But Hahn's background and the new charter language urging special consideration for neighborhood diversity on commissions had led some to conclude that Hahn might pay special attention to that issue.
As a group, however, Hahn's commissioners generally have demonstrated their support for him: Roughly half have donated to Hahn's various campaigns for public office, most notably his recent mayoral victory.
Combined, his commissioners have contributed more than $107,000 to his campaigns, almost all of it in the recent mayoral election, though some donated to his earlier campaigns for city attorney. The average amount each donor commissioner gave was about $1,900. Several gave $7,000, the most allowed under city rules governing the last mayoral campaign.
Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook said the appointments were not a reward for donations, noting that at least 5,000 people gave money to Hahn's mayoral campaign. "The mayor is simply looking for the very best people who are willing to serve the city, whether they were donors or not," he said.
Though Hahn has tapped appointees for more than 100 positions, he still is faced with many more vacancies. The mayor has yet to name commissioners to roughly 200 posts, and as a result those spots still are occupied by appointees of his predecessor, Richard Riordan, who left office on June 30.
Almost 60 civilian panels, from the Affordable Housing Commission to the Board of Zoo Commissioners, advise and run city departments in Los Angeles, one of the only cities with such an extensive commission system. Many of the boards hold significant sway over the city's policies, especially over the services the city provides to its neediest residents.
Commissioners Serve at Behest of Mayor
Commissioners at the Department of Water and Power make decisions that affect discounts to low-income households, for example, and the Housing Authority sets policies regarding the city's housing projects. Police commissioners set the rules for Los Angeles Police Department officers and soon will make the decision about whether to reappoint Chief Bernard C. Parks to a second five-year term. Most city commissioners serve at the behest of the mayor.
With wealthy communities disproportionately represented on those boards, several council members who represent Los Angeles' poor neighborhoods urged the mayor to appoint more representatives from their communities.
"The greatest challenges we have in this city are represented in these very districts," said Councilman Ed Reyes, whose 1st District, which includes parts of Chinatown, Highland Park, Mt. Washington and Pico-Union, is home to just two commissioners. "It requires that we have this perspective on the commissions. Quite frankly, this disparity issue has gone on for decades. I'm just watching the mayor and hoping that as time goes on we can correct this."
Los Angeles' citizen panels were Progressive Era reforms originally designed to diffuse power and ensure public participation in government business. Over the years, the commissions have been largely shaped by the political agendas and patronage of mayors attempting to reward their allies and remake the face of city government.
Former Mayor Tom Bradley used his appointments to transform mostly white, male commissions to more diverse boards. Riordan filled the commissions with many business and civic leaders, and urged them to bring a more business-oriented approach to city departments.
In an interview, Hahn said he has strived for diversity in his appointments, but added that it is not always easy to find the right match for each commission. "What I'm more concerned about is finding the best people I can [to] serve on the commissions," he said. "I am very interested in having diverse geography and socioeconomic backgrounds and different points of view represented, and we're just doing the best job we can."
About 45% of the mayor's appointees are white, almost a quarter Latino, about 15% African American and 10% Asian American. One issue contributing to the disproportionate representation of wealthy communities, according to Hahn and others, is that the commissions generally are volunteer positions, making it difficult for some people to donate their time. The Public Works Commission is the only full-time, paid panel.
"It's no big surprise that the common people are not terribly included," said Frank Gilliam, director of UCLA's Center for Communications and Community. "At some level, you have to at least concede, this is who they would ask: the people who have both inclination and the resources and the time. . . . But what it may be doing is institutionalizing the elite presence in city government."
Still, the small number of Hahn commissioners from South-Central surprised local officials and community leaders, who said they expect the mayor to appoint more people from those neighborhoods, especially considering his long family ties to the area.
"There is no sense in which he can afford or would be inclined to so blatantly disregard his most loyal support base," said Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the area. "It's just not in the cards."
Hahn Pledges to Name More From South L.A.
Hahn said he will appoint more people from the southern part of the city, adding that his sister, a councilwoman whose district includes Watts, has already raised the issue with him.
"I am looking to get more people from the southern part of the city because it's important for me and important for the city to have each part represented," Hahn said.
A Hahn aide said last week that the mayor was in the process of naming another round of people to area planning commissions, including five from South Los Angeles.
The San Fernando Valley, meanwhile, is home to about a third of Hahn's commissioners--roughly mirroring its overall place in the city population. One of Hahn's top priorities is defeating a drive in that part of the city to break away from the rest of Los Angeles.
Activists who work in the communities not well represented on the citizen panels said the disparity in appointments means that the very people the city is supposed to be helping the most are being left out of the decision-making process.
"If you don't know anything about the other areas of the city, you don't live in a poor area or work in a poor area, you're not going to be thinking about the impact on a poor area," said civil rights attorney Connie Rice, a former Water and Power commissioner under Bradley and Riordan. "Those issues usually get left off the table."
Rice said she was the one commissioner on her board who checked to make sure the Department of Water and Power's pipe-replacement program was prioritizing the poorer parts of the city, where the pipes are older.
Others joined in rejecting the notion that there are not qualified candidates in those neighborhoods.
"There are many people who live in these communities who are very educated, very smart and would be very willing to serve," said James Elmendorf, staff director for Coalition LA, a multicultural, grass-roots organization based in the poorest council districts. "One of the challenges of governance is that once a group is excluded, it's that much harder to get them in. It's not a problem started by Mayor Hahn. But it's a problem everyone in the city needs to start thinking creatively about how to fix."
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