Jul 29, 2014
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Neighborhood Councils: How Effective Are They?

13 years after their establishment, Neighborhood Councils are still finding their footing.

Neighborhood Councils: How Effective Are They? Neighborhood Councils: How Effective Are They?

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, columnist Jim Newton yesterday posted an interesting piece on the current state of Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils. 

Emerging from the contentious charter reform battle of 1999, neighborhood councils were formed to serve as an intermediary between Angelenos and their city government.

Thirteen years after they were first established, Newton notes, it's still unclear whether neighborhood councils are fulfilling their potential to increase civic engagement.

It's been 10 years since the first of the councils rolled out, and they have yet to prove either as revolutionary as their backers hoped or as obstructionist as their opponents feared. And yet, as councils across the city prepare for a new round of elections this summer and fall, they are growing in strength, forming connections to one another and, gradually, becoming an indispensable aspect of Los Angeles politics.

Newton points to the role played by neighborhood councils in establishing a Department of Water and Power ratepayer advocate as evidence of their growing influence over civic affairs. Neighborhood Councils in the West Valley have also been key players in shaping planned developments in their corner of the city. 

Neighborhood Councils have been active in the Northeast as well.

The has used its annual budget allotment--typically around $40,000--to support academic programs at local schools and community beautification projects. The same can be said for the , which represents the neighborhoods of Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mount Washington, Hermon and Sycamore Grove.

However, neighborhood councils are poorly attended, with council members often outweighing attendees. The majority of those who do attend are usually there to seek funding for local projects.

Councils have also been marred by in-fighting. The Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council is currently seeking to navigate its way out the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment's (DONE) Exahustive Measures program. They were placed in the program--which strips them of the power to run meetings or make budget decisions--after DONE caught wind of extensive .

Despite their struggles, Neighborhood Councils seem likely persevere and will hold another set of elections this summer.

Whether they reach their potential as an instrument for citizens to leverage elected officials remains to be seen, and rests largely in the hands of the populace their were created to empower.

As it stands, the primary business of Neighborhood Councils seems to be measuring out their limited funds to support community projects on a first come, first serve basis. Often, they work outside the supervision of constituencies that cannot be bothered to attend meetings. Participation in Neighborhood Councils has been historically abysmal, even when measured .

When it comes to fulfilling their original purpose, Neighborhood Councils can only be as effective as Angelenos force them to be. Council members can't speak on the behalf of their constituencies if they're not talking.

Highland Park residents can get involved in their local neighborhood council on Thursday. A .pdf of the agenda is attached above. If you don't like what you see, elections are coming later this summer.

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