By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
So my concern is that now all the groups who aren't officially designated have found themselves with lower status. And it would be, it seems to me, inappropriate to have to say, "Sorry, fellas, instead you now have to go to a neighborhood council before you can get to your elected representative." You don't have to formally, but practically that's how it's going to work.
CHEMERINSKY:There are a number of ways in which the new charter increases responsiveness of government. I think having area planning commissions, rather than one central city planning commission, is a real improvement with regard to the planning process. And I believe strongly that there should be neighborhood councils. Under the current charter, such councils are not institutionalized. Some council districts have them, some don't. This institutionalizes a system of neighborhood councils.
I think the place where I most disagree with Ruth is where she says that this is going to lessen people going to their council member. The council member is still an elected official. The neighborhood councils aren't elected. People will still go to the elected official just as much. And if City Council members want to be re-elected, or elected to some future office, they will be every bit as responsive as they are now.
GALANTER: If you elect good council members, which one always hopes the public will do, good council members, as part of their job, set up councils of all different kinds. And because they are doing it for their own districts, they are in a better position, I believe, to figure out what best fits those particular communities. I don't think you can have a one-size-fits-all. I don't think, with the best of intentions, that either a citywide department or commission, or the designers of a charter, can ever really be in a position to move with the changing nature of our specific neighborhoods.
I have five councils in my district. Almost everybody has them, except, I think, Mr. Wachs, and maybe Mr. Ferraro. They're very useful. They are useful to the community, and they are certainly useful to me. But they are not all the same. The one in Crenshaw has a different kind of job, and a different kind of makeup, than the one in Westchester, which is different from the one in Venice, and the other two as well.
CHEMERINSKY: The charter doesn't institutionalize one way. It lets communities decide how they're going â to handle neighborhood councils. It does give protections, like notification, so they can participate in the budget process.
GALANTER: What I'm saying is that if you have council members who are good at what they're supposed to be doing --serving the public -- they will form groups to allow people to participate. It's in their self-interest to do so, as well as being the right thing. They don't really need somebody downtown to tell them how to go about it. If they do, they probably weren't qualified to get elected in the first place.
WEEKLY: Do neighborhood councils really make a difference?
KIEFFER: We believe they do, and the people who spoke to us about councils in other cities thought they did. We thought it was important enough that we shouldn't have to rely simply on the goodwill of a particular council member to establish neighborhood councils. The charter's guidelines are very flexible. We were very conscious of not getting into a situation of one-size-fits-all. A plan for establishing neighborhood councils will be proposed by the department to the City Council, which then can either accept, reject or modify it.
GOLDBERG: One of the problems with the neighborhood councils is that the places the charter commission looked at, as I understand it, including Portland, were smaller and more homogeneous than many of our districts. The problem is that in a neighborhood like, say, Echo Park, you have a multiclass structure, you have a multiethnic structure, you have at least three dominant languages. Right now, we have eight or nine smaller community groups that are each pretty much homogeneous. And I listen to all of them.
If they were forced into one neighborhood council, the most likely result is that those who live in the hills would be the only people who would come after about four or five meetings, because there are cultural, political, economic and language gulfs that are not going to be easily overcome. And a lot of us who have been organizing in Echo Park for a lot of years have tried to get everybody into one organization. It does not work, I can assure you. I don't disagree with the intent of neighborhood councils. In fact, I wanted the charter to go much further. I wanted people to have real power. I just don't see that this is going to work.
CHEMERINSKY:The proposed charter sets up a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment that would put together a plan for the creation of neighborhood councils. The plan then would go to the City Council. A plan for neighborhood councils would essentially allow every area of the city the option of creating a neighborhood council. It would let each neighborhood decide how it wishes to select its members. So how is the new charter better than the neighborhood councils the council people are already creating? Well, there are very specific protections for neighborhood councils that exist in the new charter, and that don't exist when council people create their own.
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