The Los Angeles neighborhood council system could be on the verge of a shakeup due to a series of motions introduced recently by a city councilman.
City Councilman Paul Krekorian of the Second District introduced four proposals June 15 that would change to some extent how neighborhood councils operate in the future.
Krekorian, who will soon be leaving his position as chairman of the council’s neighborhoods and education committee, characterized the system of local advisory boards as reaching a critical turning point in its history.
“After 10 years of development, the neighborhood council movement is at a crossroads. Initially, the focus of neighborhood councils was simply to create a system that empowered communities,” Krekorian explained in a press release.
“What followed was an astonishing and inspiring movement in which 93 neighborhood councils sprouted in nearly every corner of Los Angeles, built by dedicated residents who simply wanted a voice in City Hall and wanted more for their neighborhoods.”
The four motions center on improved training for neighborhood council board members; reforms in the neighborhood council funding program; a restructuring of managerial responsibilities from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) to regional collaborations of neighborhood councils; and a streamlined process to handle grievances of neighborhood councils and their members to maintain the integrity of the system.
Some members of the city Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, a subset of DONE, which supervises the advisory councils, see the reforms as necessary and have called for similar changes for the last few years.
Board of Neighborhood Commissioners President Albert Abrams questioned how the proposed reforms could be implemented in light of the fact that the city remains in a budget crisis.
“I don’t see how any of the objectives mentioned in the four motions can be practically accomplished, especially the suggestion for new citywide regional panels, without a significant funding increase for both the department and the individual neighborhood councils to handle the new requested workload,” Abrams told The Argonaut. “The city budget doesn’t have much wiggle room in it and I don’t see new cash flowing into the neighborhood council system anytime soon.”
Venice resident Linda Lucks, another BONC commissioner, thinks the motions have a great deal of merit, but noted that her commission had not been notified that the proposals would be going to the council committee without BONC seeing them.
“I see it as good intentions, but misguided,” said Lucks, the president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.
Lucks does agree with giving neighborhood councils increased responsibility of policing their own board members regarding ethics training and any conflict of interest violations, including sanctioning board members who violate the city-mandated ethics edict.
The motions are a result of 18 months of research, town halls, public survey responses and education and neighborhood committee meetings. In these meetings, according to Krekorian’s office, hundreds of stakeholders, board members and others contributed to a dialogue on how best to develop the path forward for the neighborhood council system.
Krekorian said BONC had been involved literally every step of the way through the 18-month outreach initiative.
“They have been fully engaged and were notified about all public hearings,” he said. “We value the input of the BONC commissioners.”
Abrams added that he agrees with many of the proposed reforms that Krekorian is seeking.
“From a first-read, I think the councilman has indeed identified some important problems with the neighborhood council system that the commission has been raising publicly for over two years,” he acknowledged. “The commission has placed these issues on the agendas for discussion many times over the last two years and we’ve taken much public comment on them as well.
“However, it’s important to remember that annual funding for neighborhood councils has been cut back 20 percent by the city over the last two years and the number of employees at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment has been slashed from over 55 to just under 20 employees,” Abrams added.
Krekorian said his motions are a blueprint for the council to consider and the city would examine how the proposals will be funded. “How these changes will be budgeted will be part of the broader discussion,” said the councilman, adding that he does not intend for individual local boards to shoulder any potential costs.
Mar Vista Community Council First Vice President Sharon Commins took issue with what she sees as the addition of more red tape.
“I will say I personally do not favor adding layers of regional bureaucracy requiring more meetings, and costing the city more money, to the present neighborhood council system,” Commins said.
Krekorian said his intent was not to personally dictate how the changes to local advisory boards should take shape.
“I introduced this package of reforms to help chart the course, but not drive the bus,” he reiterated. “These reforms are by no means limited to my personal vision but are rather the product of tremendous collaboration, and will be a starting point in our ongoing conversation to help shape local democracy.”
Abrams said his commission would do everything they can to assist Krekorian in putting into place the reforms outlined in his motions, but he questioned how they will be funded.
“I think the councilman’s ideas are good and there’s a lot to digest in this vision, but at the end of the day, I think it’s prudent to ask the key question: where will the money come from needed to accomplish these goals to restructure the neighborhood council system?” he asked. “If the City Council agrees to pass these motions, then proper and adequate funding to implement all of them must be provided as well.”
Lucks added, “I look forward to a vigorous dialogue on how these reforms can be implemented.”
Commins said the burden of enacting the reforms could fall on other areas of the city government. “These changes will also undoubtedly increase the workload for other city departments, most notably the city attorney’s office, which will have to supply legal coverage for any new regional boards,” she predicted.
Krekorian stressed that his motions are designed to “start a dialogue” and one of the primary purposes of them is to give the local councils more decision-making regarding funding, as well as enforcement of the duties and obligations of their members.