Omar Said: Neighborhood Councils Needed In Los Angeles Despite Backlash And Criticism


Do we really need neighborhood advice?

These words were on the agenda every month when Jerry Brown was president of Westwood Neighborhood Council.

Yes, every month. No, not Governor Jerry Brown.

Brown was the first president of WWNC when the board was formed in 2010. He retired in 2016.

Those who know Brown know that although he was president, he always hated neighborhood councils. Lisa Chapman, the current WWNC president who has also served on the board since 2010, said Brown has been against neighborhood councils for as long as she has known it.

“(Brown) looked at things in black and white… and he didn’t believe very much in neighborhood councils,” Chapman said. “He didn’t think the compromise between the groups was as important as it is.

Neighborhood councils are meant to be organizations that empower communities to have their say. However, their designation as official municipal entities forces them to face red tape and bureaucratic processes at all times. The designation also makes them vulnerable to legal attack from anyone with the time or money, threatening to undermine their already slim authority.

But as loud and boring as WWNC meetings can be, LA needs neighborhood advice. Neighborhood councils unify the city’s many diverse communities, providing a forum for groups that have historically remained separate from one another. They also give the community a voice – after all, not everyone has time to travel downtown to visit LA City Council.

This may not be obvious given Angelenos’ exasperation with neighborhood councils.

It’s not just Brown who doesn’t like advice. Michael Skiles, president of the UCLA Graduate Students Association and a leading member of the Westwood Forward coalition, which is trying to create a new neighborhood council, said he believes neighborhood councils are not representative enough .

“Across the city of Los Angeles, neighborhood council members tend to be more homeowners, wealthy people, and white people, with fewer renters, people of color, people from socio-social backgrounds. diverse or youth economics, ”Skiles said.

He added that he believes the lack of diversity in neighborhood councils has caused them to reflect the views of the wealthy and make decisions that exclude people and stifle businesses.

It’s no surprise that Skiles feels this way. WWNC members have spent years denying students the right to vote. In 2016, Sandy Brown, vice president of WWNC and chairman of the Holmby Westwood Property Owners Association, proposed a motion to extend the terms of board members to four years, which the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment rejected. . The change would have prevented a majority of undergraduates at UCLA from running for council seats.

WWNC has also made many decisions against the interests of students, even in matters that affect their ability to vote in municipal elections. The council polling station is over a mile from campus, and voting is not yet available online, despite 36 other Los Angeles neighborhood councils using online voting during of the 2016 elections.

Neighborhood councils were also an opportunity for those who were already in power to maintain their authority. Greg Nelson, the first director of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the person who came up with the idea to introduce neighborhood councils to LA in 1992, has said that Sandy Brown and HWPOA were notable opponents of the creation of WWNC in 2010. Brown now sits on that same board as vice chairman.

“Those with power don’t like to share it,” Nelson said. “And (Sandy Brown) was so afraid that she would end up having to share power and influence and that she could no longer be the sole spokesperson for the people of Westwood.”

This is in addition to the fact that this advice comes with a lot of legal baggage. After neighborhood councils began operating in the early 2000s, the city attorney found that Brown’s Law – a state law passed in 1953 to ensure transparency in local government – applied to councils. of area. The law includes provisions prohibiting council members from working together outside of neighborhood council meetings, depriving them of the ability to work together to lobby city council members or to spend time getting informed. correctly on the issues they need to vote on.

Nelson believes the Brown Law has ruined the ability of neighborhood councils to be successful. He said the city attorney’s announcement in the early 2000s forced his department to stop teaching councils how to properly exercise political influence and instead focus on teaching council members how to comply. to Brown Law.

The law allowed members of the public to oppose decisions by neighborhood councils on where to set up homeless shelters. This despite the fact that Angelenos passed Measure H in 2017, giving the city millions of taxpayer dollars to provide housing for the homeless.

All of this seems to indicate that LA should just get rid of the neighborhood councils. In fact, Seattle completely dissolved its neighborhood councils in 2016 because it believed they were preventing the city from doing its job.

But the same strategy wouldn’t work here in LA. LA neighborhood councils were not a random choice. They were created as part of the New LA City Charter, which was passed in 1999 with the goal of ending the San Fernando Valley attempt to separate from the city because its residents believed that their needs were neglected by the town hall.

That’s the big picture: there are too many different people and groups in LA for it to function without a place where its communities find a compromise. The neighborhood councils that we have aren’t great, but they are better than nothing.

And there is still hope: Neighborhood councils could easily be set by the city by passing a law that would exempt them from Brown’s Law and help them do the job they were always supposed to do. Nelson, for example, has long proposed a Sunshine Law that would incorporate all aspects of Brown’s Law that ensure neighborhood councils are open and transparent in their dealings, while exempting parts of the law that hinder councils.

Whether Westwood Forward passes or not, if Westwood is to truly become the social destination it once was, WWNC – or the neighborhood council that governs Westwood Village – needs to be the place where different groups come together and find the issues that they are. Okay.

Because at the end of the day, we need neighborhood advice. We needed them to keep this city together in the 90s, and we need them now to make sure this great city can develop in a way that works for all of its citizens, not just presidents of the United States. ‘associations of owners.

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