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Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA

Activist Zuma Dogg has filed a Brown Act complaint against Venice Neighborhood Council. Dogg claims he was not provided with an amended draft copy of an item pertaining directly to him. Such filings by residents are commonplace as a Neighborhood Council system becomes increasingly beholden to merchant interests, and less answerable to residential interests.

Dogg's filing is symptomatic of a larger trend: across Los Angeles, community residents have taken to using Brown Act grievances as a way to bring balance against commercial factions.

Brown Act grievances, a lone equalizer in a system often called "grassroots democracy" but devoid of democracy's checks and balances, have become more common throughout the system.

Brown Act requirements for LA's neighborhood councils were established by their original charter. As wikipedia says, the introduction to the 50-year-old Brown Act describes its purpose and intent.

In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

A further operational difficulty for chartered neighborhood councils is the lack of checks and balances within the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. As discussed at a City Hall forum two days ago, neighborhood councils may easily be co-opted by other civic organizations, especially chamber of commerce, pro-development and other real estate factions. This happened in Venice seven years ago, and the legacy of the co-opting continues today.

All throughout the Neighborhood Council system, business factions are over-represented and residential interests are under-represented. The Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council's president is Scott Campbell, a pro-development real estate agent, for instance. Its Vice President is Tricia LaBelle, a promotions director at Boardner's.

In recent years, some neighborhood organizations that represent residential interests, notably on the westside, have gone so far as to bypass City certification as neighborhood councils so that they may more effectively operate without being beholden to Brown Act requirements.