Neighborhood councils

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Neighborhood councils are governmental or non-governmental bodies composed of local people who handle neighborhood problems.

Introduction[edit]

Neighborhood councils: to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.

Neighborhood councils can be found in many cities throughout the world. In the United States, such councils are active in Los Angeles, California, Tacoma, Washington,[1] and San Diego, California[2] among other cities. They are designed to include representatives of the many diverse interests and needs in the communities that make up a City, providing an advisory role on issues of concern.

Neighborhood councils in Los Angeles[edit]

History[edit]

There are currently 95 neighborhood councils within the city limits, throughout a spread out, diverse, and huge metropolitan area in the City of Los Angeles in Southern California. The councils are the result of political and voter action for a vision of a citywide system of independent and influential advisory neighborhood councils and the creation of a city department to guide that process, was the centerpiece of a new Los Angeles City Charter that was approved by the voters in June 1999 in the City of Los Angeles, California.

The first notable concern of the neighborhood councils collectively was the opposition by some of them in March 2004 to an 18% increase in water rates by the city's Department of Water and Power. This led the City Council to approve only a limited increase pending independent review. More recently, some of the councils petitioned the City Council in summer 2006 to allow them to introduce ideas for legislative action, but the City Council put off a decision.

Public Participation[edit]

  • Membership

The standard for membership is often more liberal than the location-specific approach used by most political subdivisions ("you vote where your house is" standard). Participation is based on "stakeholder status"—a broader definition—a businessperson or someone representing a local church, or hospital, or charity would qualify—on that basis—even if they do not live in the exact area. Several positions on neighborhood councils may be set off—specifically—to guarantee that those local business people, church, and charity participants are included. This resident—local businessperson alliance hopefully encourages acceptable, practical, economic development for an area.

  • Meetings

To effect their interests, neighborhood councils organize a monthly "town meeting", not unlike the historic model demonstrated in New England towns. An agenda is posted on issues under discussion, relevant community reps or City of LA or LAPD officials may be invited, discussion is opened to members of the council and the public attending, and then the council votes to take its position. Basic parliamentary rules are followed, and the California standard for open public meetings, the Brown Act, guarantee designated "public comment" periods.

Administration[edit]

The neighborhood councils have been allocated $37,000 each per year for administration, outreach and approved neighborhood projects.

Organizational Outline[edit]

Vision[edit]

The vision of a citywide system of independent and influential neighborhood councils, and the creation of a city department to guide that process, was the centerpiece of the new City Charter that was approved by the voters in June 1999.

Mission Statement[edit]

To promote public participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs by creating, nurturing, and supporting a citywide system of grass-roots, independent, and participatory neighborhood councils.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment Pledge[edit]

  • 1. We will treat the public with courtesy and respect.
  • 2. When explaining a restriction, making a suggestion, or reporting a delay, we will always explain the reason why.
  • 3. We will ensure that people who call during working hours will always have an opportunity to speak to someone.
  • 4. We will avoid using insider or bureaucratic language.
  • 5. We will be good listeners.
  • 6. We will honor the Mayor’s “no wrong door” policy, and never use the words, “It’s not my job!” We will find out whose job it is.
  • 7. We will never say, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” or “We tried it that way once but it didn’t work.”
  • 8. We will keep the promises we make.
  • 9. We believe that everyone deserves an answer.
  • 10. We will strive to be the best friend that neighborhood councils have.

The Plan for a Citywide System of Neighborhood Councils (Plan) Starting with a skeleton staff in 1999, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment held 16 public workshops throughout the city to begin teaching people about grass-roots participatory democracy, and to hear the public's needs, dreams, and suggestions. By the time the Plan for a Citywide System of Neighborhood Councils (Plan) was adopted, nearly 50 more public hearings had been held.

Plan[edit]

The Plan was approved on May 25, 2001 by the City Council through an ordinance. The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners reviewed years of extensive study regarding neighborhood councils, and received months of public comment before presenting a proposed plan to the Mayor and City Council in December, 2000. For six months, City Council committees received public comment on the proposed plan, and made revisions before submitting it to the Mayor for final approval in May, 2001. The Plan establishes a flexible framework through which people in neighborhoods may be empowered to create neighborhood councils to serve their needs. The Plan also sets minimum standards to ensure that neighborhood councils represent all stakeholders in the community, conduct fair and open meetings, and are financially accountable.

Formation[edit]

Neighborhood councils are groups of people that, once certified by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, will elect or select their own leaders, determine their own agendas, and set their own boundaries. The goal is to make them as independent as possible from government so that they will have the influence and power to affect citywide and local decision-making far beyond what neighborhood groups have done. People would be truly empowered to guide the futures of their neighborhoods.

Functions and Services[edit]

Through the Early Notification System (ENS), Neighborhood councils receive notice of issues and projects that are important to them as soon as possible. In this way, they will have a reasonable amount of time to understand, discuss, and develop positions before final decisions are made.

Neighborhood councils are first formulated to fit coherent neighborhoods within the City, from a process to elect a council certified by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. With an approved charter of organization, neighborhood councils are set free, in principle, forever, to run their open neighborhood elections and continue. Residents inside the neighborhood council area are empowered to elect a board, which then chooses its own leaders, determines its own agendas, and take locally discussed positions on issues of zoning, policing, community development, and the design of the Los Angeles City Charter. The goal is to make neighborhood councils independent from elected officials, and street-savvy enough to define their own community's positions on public issues so that they can develop the influence and power to affect citywide and local decision-making.

City Hall and other councils[edit]

A funding level of $50,000 a year per Neighborhood Council was established—to be used for any appropriate community use—with a dedicated percentage on outreach and community building—subject to City of Los Angeles auditing and contracting standards. This has since been reduced to $37,000 per NC per year.

References[edit]