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Last Chance to Shape City Budget

Wednesday’s the deadline to tell L.A.’s mayor how to spend taxpayers’ money in 2012-13.

Last Chance to Shape City Budget

Robert Guevara, co-chair of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council’s Outreach and Event Planning Committee, intends this article as a Patch blog:

The “Mayor’s Budget Survey” is an annual exercise that is undertaken with the idea that the City wants to know what the people who live and work in L.A. think should be done with the upcoming fiscal year’s budget. It’s all about one of those functions that includes individual action—yours.

As a board member of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, I would like to see some greater involvement from our community on this issue than has been the case in the past. This is an easy one to handle, whether you agree or not on anything that the City Council and the Mayor do.

Click here to view an online Budget Survey, plus much background material. Should you wish to know more about the budget task, you will find dollar figures and graphs after the Survey page.

February 22 Deadline

Today, Wednesday, February 22, is the last day to get any response submitted. The job is made easier by doing this online. All you have to do is click through nine short pages and mark your responses, setting your own order of priorities for areas of the City’s services and spending.

Do you want priorities leading off with police or fire protection? Perhaps you prefer libraries and street maintenance. Or maybe pension reform and other city areas of spending. You’ll find them all in the Survey. You can also submit comments on the pages. 

If you are concerned that participating may mark you in some way, adding your name is optional. But zip codes and Neighborhood Council areas are requested to try to identify the needs and concerns of the submissions and align them with particular geographical areas.

Why Participate?

What matters is the overall participation in the survey. It is our City budget’s direct connection with the people. The Neighborhood Councils are involved here, too, but as many critics have pointed out in other forums, the NC’s constituents may not have much of an idea about NC activity on any ongoing basis. Outreach has been the weak link for most Neighborhood Councils over the years. 

Without a significant link to what the community’s views are about, it is not likely that representation via the NCs to the Mayor’s office and the council members will be considered to be done effectively. It is an uphill battle because fewer than are needed for the task have been involved in the job. Facebook is becoming useful for bringing out that information to the public, however, and some city issues are posted on my own Facebook page, which you can view by clicking this link. You can also find some useful resource and contact information on the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council website.

Survey Characteristics

This Budget Survey gives an indication—and a direct one at that—about what people say is important to them about city services. The Survey also reveals which areas are less important to constituents when it comes to spending money for the fiscal year 2012-2013. The funding and assessment of NC performance pursuant to the City Charter’s mandates are other factors affected.

It's well to remember that low turnout may support City Council members who favor slashing NC budgets, citing cost-effectiveness or dysfunction as a basis. For example, funding for NC elections is needed—and the City was about to skip this year’s election for two years to save money. That is still a pending issue for City Council members, some of whom are not supporters of the NC system anyway, which is a topic for later discussion.

March 10 Announcement

The Survey results will be announced on Saturday, March 10 at City Hall during the Mayor’s Budget Day event beginning at 8:30 a.m. Although all are invited to attend, the turnout usually is only from Neighborhood Council budget representatives invited citywide.

My observation has been that the NC has a long way to go to succeed in hearing from most people who live in a given area served. The perceptions that some or many people have of this or other NCs is that operations are done more in isolation from—than in connection with—the people of the community.

No Excuse for Not Acting

As a measure of any NC’s activity, there should be a response from every board member of all Neighborhood Councils. It is hard to have an excuse for not acting here, and the results of inaction have been historically telling.

There may be some correlation there with how much community response is taken in by an NC and reflected in its operations. What’s clear is that people from the community are needed to form NC committees. Our bylaws describe what should be happening, but for now, the Survey is a handy way of being involved.

So get the Survey done online, and if you could pass along the word to others, you would help improve community participation in the Budget.

As of Thursday, February 15, there were a total of 3,433 responses, including 446 from NC board members. During the week before, on February 8, there were 1,928 responses, including 335 from NC board members. 

In light of the city’s substantial population, there really ought to be a lot more responses. The NC boards alone should supply at least 1,395 responses, given that there are 93 neighborhood councils, with 15 board members each.

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