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
No word yet on whether Jim Alger, the man who went toe-to-toe with the DWP over a rate increase, is taking the tour. But it was a little jolting to see him earlier this summer walking down the First Street steps alongside several DWP reps and Mayor Hahn for a press event announcing the creation of an environmental panel. Hahn appointed Alger, and another neighborhood-council leader, to his “green ribbon” commission.
Like a seasoned City Hall insider, Alger thanked Hahn and the City Council, then said he had a message not for neighborhood councils, but for DWP ratepayers. “You will be in the forefront of my and everyone else’s mind here,” Alger said. It was as though he were running for office.
In Lincoln Heights, an hour or so after the Neighborhood Council was thrown out of the community hall for behaving like children, Meg Barclay reflected on the tumultuous year she spent as the council’s vice president. She gave up the post late last year due to the demands of her master’s program at USC, where she was a student of Terry Cooper.
“There is just so much that could be done,” Barclay lamented. “There is just so much potential. I had never been part of a community effort before. But we were an elected neighborhood council, and it was like, because we said so, we should all know what to do. But we didn’t.”
The latest election is under dispute, and the council, unable without a quorum to act on much more than new table arrangements, is sitting on $100,000 of taxpayer money — two years’ worth of city allocations — that it cannot spend.
The Lincoln Heights meetings go on, though, to one extent or another, and that may be a victory in itself. Some boards are spending their city money on playground equipment or street trees, while communities that already have mastered the art of making City Hall work for them — like Pacific Palisades — have decided to not even bother with forming a council. But Lincoln Heights may be more like Pacoima, where Neighborhood Council leader Edwin Ramirez said his community takes a giant step forward every time members have a meeting and no one gets mad at anyone.
“We’re getting to know each other,” Ramirez said. “We’re coming to understand our differences. We have a place to meet each other and talk to each other. Just having an election and getting through a meeting — that’s something new. Something important, I think.”
Greg Nelson calls Pacoima his favorite council, because of the angst involved in just reaching out to various segments of the community, pulling them in and getting them to acknowledge each other’s existence. On paper, Pacoima has done nothing. But it has begun its encounter, its conversation.
To some thinkers, Pacoima is what neighborhood councils were always supposed to be about. Not buying playground equipment, but talking, listening, learning. Slowly changing the city’s political culture and giving up our presumed birthright (being left alone by City Hall). In that case, there are some steps that could help.
Get the Legislature to modify the Brown Act to give neighborhood councils a little breathing room. Ask BONC to reconsider its edict against caucus or town-hall-type meetings. Encourage DONE, which already operates an excellent leadership-training program, to pry the Robert’s Rules of Order out of the local leaders’ hands and focus instead on talking about the city, what it is and where it is headed. Set councils free, letting them become the lobbyists for the people that Nelson envisioned. Or do nothing at all, and see if One L.A. and similar groups can do the job.
For more-sweeping solutions, it may be too late. Hundreds of new neighborhood leaders now have a vested interest in keeping their new institution intact and would be loath to give up their $50,000, for example, or their yearlong process of reviewing city-budget decisions, even if it means more independence. The councils themselves may be in charge of their future, but instead of becoming nimble grassroots groups ready to turn on a dime, they are becoming part of a calcified City Hall bureaucracy.
Not everyone thinks that’s a bad thing. Several members of Alger’s Northridge West Neighborhood Council were mulling recently whether to accept the DWP trip to the Eastern Sierra. One man, a former secession advocate who was leaning toward taking the trip, said not to worry about Alger walking down the steps of City Hall at the mayor’s side.
“You don’t understand about neighborhood councils,” he declared. “We’re not being co-opted.
“We’re taking over.”