Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's downtown-centric frame of vision — one that certainly sticks to City Hall tradition — is (once again) pissing off the people.
The mayor currently selects all five members for each of 51 City Commissions, who are then approved by the tight-knit City Council — maintaining total allegiance and keeping all major decisions in the family.
Representatives on the city's 91 Neighborhood Councils, on the other hand, are elected by their constituents.
For that reason, former Reseda [Neighborhood] Councilmember Michael Cohen is planning a citywide forum — to go down before the end of the year, he hopes — calling for the presence of one Neighborhood Council representative on each City Commission.
Cohen is a founding member (along with former LA Daily News editor Ron Kaye) of L.A. Clean Sweep, a “political action committee organizing … to sweep out of office City Council members responsible for the budget crisis that threatens to force the city into bankruptcy,” according to their website.
Los Angeles' urban sprawl is difficult to traverse, in every sense. This vastness makes it especially difficult to govern on ground-level. Even more so — according to Loyola Marymount political-science professor Fernando Guerra — when there's no neighborhood representation on any of the city's commissions.
At a public forum on Thursday, October 7, City District 14 Councilman Jose Huizar discussed the possibility of City Charter reform — to “see if it is working and decide where we need to go.”
There, Guerra advocated for the neighborhood seat, saying: “I would suggest that the mayor make the commitment to do this.”
The shut-out neighborhood frustration reminds us of the Valley's secession drive from 1998 to 2002. At the time, former Mayors James Hahn and Richard Riordan appointed a few more Valley representatives to their commissions, and called it a fix. However, the L.A. Daily News reports that Valley activists are still complaining about underrepresentation.
Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton told the Daily News: “While the Valley may represent 38 percent of the population and commission appointments are 23 percent, the mayor has assembled one of the most diverse group of commissioners in city history.”
So how can Villaraigosa be convinced to further diversify his governing body?
“We haven't asked him yet,” Cohen said. “But no one likes to voluntarily give up power. The only person we know of is George Washington.”
Cohen put it best in his report on the Huizar forum:
“The neighborhood council appointees might not always be the most qualified from the city's gene pool, but the commissioner will be our idiot, not downtown's.”