As CityWatch reprints my original piece on the prospect of requiring LA's neighborhood councils to garner one percent of the registered voters in a community to seat and maintain a board (as well as a counter by sententious accountant Paul Hatfield), many more long-standing neighborhood council officers have given me their opinions on the matter.
Tomi Lyn Bowling, the Land Use Committee chair of Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council writes:
What percentage of the population turns out at the presidential election, or the state, county and city elections? And those are PAID leaders, with huge budgets for campaigning. Is there a requirement for those? It is very hard to get folks participating and for the ones that are active and do participate it would take away their NCs. NCs represent the interests of the people that participate and perhaps in some communities that means a "faction" or a particular group.Michael Higby, a longtime player at North Hollywood Neighborhood Council, says:
In STNC's years of operation it has been a good mix of people that I have seen. So in a "required" percentage it would effectively wipe out most NCs. Well since that has been Villaraigosa's agenda from day one, it does not surprise me that this is where we're suddenly looking. Too much power that threatens the status quo so if we can't disband them all together or reduce budgets to nothing, or laden them with excessive training and administrative requirements then let's put an impossible voter turnout requirement on them that even an official election would not meet!
I'm very suspicious of anyone who claims to try to better the NC system in a way that will effectively take them away from the people.
Not knowing all the mechanics, this sounds like a good idea to me. One percent I don't think is an unattainable number.And it's worthwhile to re-print a comment from Kim VanKirk Thompson, President of Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council:
When I was on the North Hollywood Mid Town Neighborhood Council it was a constant thorn in my side that we did not utilize more resources for outreach. The efforts were token at best and straight out of 1958 (putting up a card on the bulletin board at Ralphs).
We had allocated several thousands dollars to send out mailers on the upcoming NC board elections. This dovetailed with reports that the libraries were going broke. The NC board decided instead to take that money for mailers ("no one votes anyway") and give it to the North Hollywood/Amelia Earhart library to buy books. A worthy cause no doubt but in my view a completely irresponsible move. Perhaps mailers might not have been the best tool; but one way or another that money should have been spent on outreach.
We also spent outreach money on buying cheerleading uniforms for the local high school and on paying for supplies and food for neighborhood "clean ups" and "tree plantings" in board members' neighborhoods.
I consistently made the point that these are Rotary Club or Jaycee projects; not the purpose of the NC. It fell and deaf ears and I chose not to seek re-election when my term ended.
One other thing that bugged the hell out of me was when the staff of legislators would show up to make "reports." Frequently, the content was nothing but aggrandizement for the respective elected's pet projects i.e. Tom LaBonge's bike ride or Wendy Greuel's free hamburgers in the park day.
One time I challenged Wendy's aide de camp to share with us what policy initiatives Wendy was working on and could use our help on. I said "Surely Wendy is working on more than hamburgers?" He said "I will have to get back to you." Because we were North Hollywood, we always got the B team. When Paul K was elected I was hoping for more substance as I had been impressed with his Assembly staff. Paul put most of his top team in Sunland-Tujunga or downtown; leaving North Hollywood with the former Wendy staffers who couldn't score a controller's office job.
The whole system is one complete stinking mess. Many of these community regulars will complain about their electeds. But in reality they are in one big dysfunctional, symbiotic relationship that perpetuates the whole rotten system. Not just with the NCs, but check out the Park Advisory Boards, Community Police Advisory Boards, etc. At least the NCs have the pretense of elections, the PABs and C-PABs are hand picked by the park director and police captains respectively.
Although I hate the idea of NCs that have inadequate community interest or aren't capable of outreach, as well as the idea of Boards who do not cultivate adequate community interest in order maintain self-perpetuating Boards, I think the 1% is a bad idea. It's very unfair for the City to mandate volunteers when they don't have the capability of getting voters out.
I suppose once we find out how many registered voters live within our boundaries, we could then have a number to start from. But that goes against the idea of NCs because we are supposed to represent all stakeholders, and yet we can't count all of the baby/children/homeless/factual-based stakeholders who can't vote so it seems like a mess to me. How will they figure out that number?
Maybe if the City Clerk hadn't have taken $10,000 of our money and told us that they were going to outreach for us and then didn't, there would have been a higher turnout.
My Neighborhood Council happens to want a high turnout, so many of us actually knocked on doors and we sent a mailer to every address within our boundaries and we still only got 226 voters. We represent about 28,000-30,000 stakeholders.
I think it's pretty obvious by looking at the cumulative report from the City Clerk which NCs did outreach and which didn't. Perhaps the mandate should be the outreach, not the voter turnout. Those same NCs are probably not representing their stakeholders well either.
When we have an issue, we walk the area twice as far as the City mandates. For example, if the City says that all residents within 500 feet of a project must be notified, we are certain to inform them within 1000 feet, if not more. A NC would like us should not be written off because we can't drag another 100 people out to vote. Especially considering the percentage of the City Council and Mayoral elections. And we are all volunteers.
It cost $5000 to send a mailer to every stakeholder and ironically, the first year the City took $5000 from us, then they took another $5000 so if they decide to bring the 1% to BONC, I hope they are prepared to do a mailer or two.
Infiltrating the self-perpetuating Boards is the best way to do it but that is time-consuming.
Monitoring them is a good idea but DONE doesn't have the resources and they don't want to have the job of "policing" and some NCs resent that also so I'm putting my hope into the Peer Mentoring program that will be rolled out in September. I hope that NCs utilize it and stakeholders utilize it if they have problems with their Board.
Everyone knows that the City would jump at the chance to get rid of NCs so why give them more ammunition?
A One=Percent Solution for Neighborhood Councils
Is it time to pull the plug?
Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA
Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum