By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Parks’ experience with neighborhood participation was altogether different. As chief, he sent the beloved community liaison cops known as senior lead officers back out on patrol, and fought furiously against the growing neighborhood-based movement demanding to get their SLOs back. He struggled against democratizing community-police advisory boards — groups of citizens appointed by the LAPD who serve as links between the police and the people they serve.
Now as a councilman, Parks sometimes acts alone when community participation is warranted, as in the Bradley Boulevard matter. But his miscues also can lean the other way. Speaking one late-summer day to the Park Mesa Heights Community Council, he brushed aside a request to block construction of a motel and said it should be taken up instead by a community advisory committee, a group of residents that offers advice on local projects to the Community Redevelopment Agency. Another day, standing before the activist Community Coalition for Substance Abuse, Prevention and Treatment, he said problems should be brought not to his office but to the neighborhood council. He gave numbers to call for pickup of bulky items, numbers to report graffiti. His office can’t deal with everything at once, he said. Go through channels. That’s what they’re there for. There are “not a whole lot of solutions” to the problem of untrimmed parkway trees. “What the city says about that is . . .,” Parks began, but wait — isn’t he “the city”?
Aretha Ensley of Action for Grassroots Empowerment and Neighborhood Development Alternatives told the councilman, “We are quite aware that we can call a number and get items picked up. We need leadership. We need someone who’s going to fight for us and make it happen.” Ensley then left an open space that almost any politician would know how to fill. “I will fight for you,” the activists expected to hear. But Parks said nothing. The residents, expecting a red-tape-cutting champion, scratched their heads and wondered whether they had ended up with just another bureaucrat.
Marqueece Johnson of the coalition said Ridley-Thomas changed the standard by which a councilman in South L.A. is to be measured. “If you stood up with a problem at a community meeting, Mark Ridley-Thomas would have one of his staff members on the phone to you the next day,” Johnson said. “We are coming to the realization that Parks is a person who doesn’t have activism as his background. He was seen here as one of the better chiefs, and when he was running we had in mind the way he was ousted and the reasons that were given. That was deeply offensive to us. And there certainly was a revenge factor there when people voted. But people vote for who they know, and we know Bernard Parks. But we are coming to the realization that his background is in bureaucracy.”
Parks as police chief did have a penchant for bureaucracy and a disconcerting eye for detail. The police union hated him because, its directors said, he was so punctilious that he would send an officer through the discipline system for not having his boots polished (not quite true, but under Parks, discipline actions went way up). At commission meetings he could spew so many statistics it was impossible to remember what the numbers meant. And for a while he looked to be going through that all over again as a councilman. At one committee meeting, when someone brought forward a motion to put bumper stickers on city cars touting the new 3-1-1 information phone number, Parks moved for a study of available bumper space.
He is a tireless promoter of NFL football at the Coliseum, insisting at every opportunity that a sports team will pull in big investment dollars. The pitch rarely sells, no matter where he is. “I knew he was going to get onto the NFL,” one woman complained when Parks broached the subject at a meeting in his own district, and dozens of residents shook their heads in formation. “Oh, God!” a man gasped more recently when Parks brought up the Coliseum at a Valley homeowners meeting. The councilman didn’t miss a beat. “Now, don’t call me by my first name,” he shot back. Good recovery. He got a few laughs and a smattering of applause. But he then re-commenced his speech on the Coliseum, eliciting more groans.
But he learns. Quickly. By the time of a Housing Committee meeting early this year, where hundreds of activists gathered to complain about program cuts, Parks had become the champion of community activism. He turned an angry crowd into cheering supporters with some carefully chosen words.
“As you talk to your friends in the neighborhood,” he said, “make sure that they understand the importance of your activism. Because when issues come up that affect them, the best way to resolve them is your physical presence. It’s not enough just for a petition, not a letter, but your physical presence.”
For all his faith in bureaucracy, Parks displays a quiet genius for transcending it, or at least for working it. He is politically deft. He walked into a council presided over by Alex Padilla, a Hahn ally, and wrung out of the council president the best possible committee assignments. While Padilla was still facing a presidential challenge from Wendy Greuel and was still counting votes, Parks held his cards close to his vest until exactly the right moment. Inside City Hall, it’s an open secret: Parks was not the unnecessary ninth vote for Padilla, or the nice-but-not-enough seventh vote, but the crucial eighth vote. The one that sealed Padilla’s re-election as president. Padilla rewarded him by making him chairman of Budget and Finance. Gave him a spot on the Referred Powers board, the panel that acts for the mayor or anyone else who is conflicted out. Gave him a front seat in Public Safety, to keep an eye on his old department. And yanked Tom LaBonge from the Coliseum Commission and turned the spot over to Parks.