Neighborhood Council News, April 2013

More than a decade after the city's system of neighborhood councils was launched, debate is being renewed over their role in setting city policy and what the next mayor will do to include them.

The two mayoral candidates, Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel, both cite their past support of the system, which now is in 95 neighborhoods, but activists say they want more details on everything from their annual budget to how they are consulted on major policy issues.

The Measure A half percent sales tax proposal was defeated on March 5 by a 56-44 percent margin and two other recent measures were rejected because of the failure of city leaders to reach out to the neighborhood councils, said Tony Wilkinson, who chairs the neighborhood council committee working with the Department of Water and Power on service and rate issues.

"There was Measure A this year and before that, there was Measure B, Mayor (Antonio) Villaraigosa's proposal to give DWP union crews a monopoly on city rooftop solar installations," Wilkinson said. "And, this year, there was the $3 billion bond issue for street repairs.

"No one likes to have something forced down their throat like that and all three lost."

Greuel said she believes the next mayor has to include the neighborhood councils in developing policy,

"Neighborhood councils play a critical part of the city's process to officially involve many of our city's stakeholders," Greuel said. "As city controller and as a former council member, I have been a supporter and defender of the neighborhood council system and fought to preserve their funding."

Garcetti said he hopes to bring the local community approach he has followed in his own district to the citywide level.

"The revitalizations I've led in neighborhoods like Hollywood, Echo Park and Atwater Village show that a focus on solving problems block by block works, and I will partner with neighborhood councils as mayor to take this back to basics approach citywide," Garcetti said.

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the council office had organized town hall meetings to get input from neighborhood councils on what projects should be given priority and where specific problems existed in the district.

The funding of the neighborhood councils long has been an issue from the days when former Mayor James Hahn allocated $50,000 to each group. Under Villaraigosa, that was reduced first to $45,000 and later to the current level of $37,000.

Also under Villaraigosa, the neighborhood councils were not allowed to bank any unspent funds to finance multi-year projects.

Wilkinson and others said the proof will be when the new mayor is elected, if there is a formal policy to require departments to communicate with the neighborhood councils or develop agreements like one that now requires the DWP to engage with the groups.

Jill Barad, founder of the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, said her group will be pressing the candidates at an April 27 debate on the issues of more concern.,

"What we want to hear is not only their vision for neighborhood councils and how to strengthen their role," Barad said. "We want to hear specifics on what they will do and not fast track all these proposals around the neighborhood councils.

"You would think they would have learned what happens when you when they go around the neighborhood councils rather than build support. With Measure A, if they had come to us, we could have recommended changes to put a sunset clause in and to guarantee how the money would be spent. If they had done that, they might have built more public support."

Douglas Epperhart, a member of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment commission, said he has yet to hear a specific vision from the candidates.

"One thing I would embrace is putting a neighborhood council member on every commission, even if it's a non-voting position," Epperhart said. "If they don't do that and begin including the neighborhood councils, I wouldn't be surprised to see another secession movement started.

"I think a lot of areas of the city that they aren't included and the decisions being made are more in terms of protecting salaries and pensions than providing services."

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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