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Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum

Yesterday, at a CORO-sponsored event involving LA's Neighborhood Councils in City Hall, some of the City's top NC figures were put increasingly on the defensive at Q-&-A time.

"If I'm a CEO and there's one big thing wrong with my corporation," scolded West LA Neighborhood Council president Jay Handel from the back of the fourth floor media room, "it's time for a reorganization. There isn't one big thing wrong with this corporation--there are three or four."

Most of the contention involved real representation and especially real outreach. Even ten years after the foundation of the Neighborhood Council movement, figures such as Commission President Al Abrams, outgoing commissioner John Kim, General Manager Bonghwan Kim and poli sci prof Raphael Sonnenshein were pleading for NCs to accomplish more outreach while acknowledging deep flaws in representation.

When a neighborhood council becomes co-opted by another community organization, there is little incentive for it to do sincere outreach, lest its seated members risk diluting their own control of the council.

The City "gave us seeds and gave us weed killer," BongHwan Kim said, describing his department's paradoxical relationship to "neighborhood empowerment." He acknowledged that some neighborhood groups on the westside are choosing to work unattached to City authority. He also acknowledged that roughly half of all neighborhood council officers have no experience handling or managing public money.

Another audience member pressed the panel on the prospective "1% rule," which would demand that a neighborhood council reach one percent of its community to validate its own operating status.

Last year, the City Attorney asked the Neighborhood Council commission and Department to look into establishing guidelines for the "factual basis stakeholders" who can participate in neighborhood council elections.

As Kathleen Travers told street-hassle two weeks ago, the councils can easily become beholden to a small faction of business interests or other interests under the current structure, and leave the interests of community residents behind.

"Businesses shouldn't have the grossly unequal representation they've been accorded," Travers said.

Abrams, whose remarks often indicated sympathy with the side of promoting business, insisted that "the best part of my job [as commission president] is public comment." Outgoing commissioner John Kim thought that the Neighborhood Council commission "doesn't need more power because it doesn't do well with the power it already has."

Newly-minted Councilman Mitch Englander kicked off the forum with some opening remarks celebrating the shiny side of neighborhood councils.