Originally posted at CityWatch. Written by Tim Deegan.
Why do neighborhood councils matter and why should you run for a board seat on your NC? At their best, and some excel at this, they serve as local political organizations that are empowered to monitor the critical issues in their communities such as land use and development, transportation and parking, and public safety. These are three key issues facing every neighborhood and depending on the NC, there are other issues to tackle as well.
The Mayor, Department heads, and City Councilmembers all listen to NCs for what’s happening in their communities. Through written advisories and “community impact statements” the NCs let city government heads know from the neighborhood level why a specific proposal may be a good or a bad idea. When the City Charter established the Neighborhood Council system over a decade ago, it gave them advisory roles that the smart occupants at City Hall have learned to pay attention to.
As stated in Article IX of the Los Angeles City Charter, the “Purpose of Neighborhood Councils” is “To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs”.
So what’s in it for you? Service to your community. What could be better than that? This service includes, but is not limited to, keeping your neighborhood whole, challenging development that does not fit the character of your neighborhood, and working closely with the police and fire departments on public safety issues.
As an NC board member, you will have the opportunity to work with officials at every level of city government, including your local councilmember will want to hear from you. Council field deputies need your feedback. The LAPD precinct captain and the Senior Lead Officers (SLO’s) will become your allies, along with the LAFD station chief and battalion chiefs who count on you for helpful information. City Hall is full of departments that rely on community input from well-organized Neighborhood Councils. Check out this “Intro to Neighborhood Councils.”
Today, more than ever, local eyes and voices need to monitor abusive development practices such as the manipulation of the Ellis Act that wrongly evicts tenants. This law allows older buildings to be torn down and replaced with high cost rental units; it encourages “mansionization” — still a scourge in many neighborhoods – by helping to enable overdevelopment of already densely packed neighborhoods such as Hollywood.
One great way to raise your voice about these concerns is to work with a neighborhood council. Many NCs collaborate with homeowner and residential groups as well as with the council district offices in their communities. This makes it possible to fight back from a street and neighborhood level against high-powered developers that have cozy relationships with politicos.
Another critical concern for Neighborhood Councils is land use development, especially as the city moves toward densification programs that will elevate the conversation about choosing between the horizontal, low slung city of the past, and the tall, vertical city of the future. How development decisions are handled by the City Council involves some of the most opaque transactions in city government, colored by financial considerations that have huge local consequences.
Few of the interested players — developers and politicos — report what they’re up to, although freshman councilmember David Ryu (4th District) is trying to make a difference by removing some of the clouds. He has a page on his website showing his interactions with developers. This illustrates his transparency to constituents and is a big win for both the councilmember and the community: a model others should think of implementing.
Your neighborhood is your backyard and you are its best protector. Your neighborhood council is your go-to city entity for local issues.
If you are thinking about running for an NC board seat, it’s important to know that the elections are administered by the City Clerk in conjunction with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. Resources are available to provide all the help you need, starting with how to file your application. You can begin by downloading and completing this Candidate Filing Form.
Jay Handal, Citywide Elections Administrator, states that his team’s goal is to have “open, honest and transparent elections, with an increase in the number of candidates running to serve their communities. And, an increase in outreach so that every stakeholder in each NC region is touched and alerted to the opportunity to serve their community, or to have their voice heard by exercising their right to vote for those who will represent them on the NC board.”
Jay Handal is urging those who are thinking about running, or running for re-election to start organizing their campaign now, and that begins with understanding the calendar of key events. Once the holidays hit, things can become a blur until January 2 when, suddenly, it will be time to start filing applications for NC elections in the spring. The official filing date depend on your area.
Do you know the elections timeline for your neighborhood council? If you do not know the name of your council you can enter your street address here. From there, you can find your election region and your timeline.
Some Neighborhood Councils start their election registration process as early as December 19, which is just a few weeks away. This is why it’s critical for you to start planning now. The clock is ticking and if you decide to run you want to be totally prepared. It will take a few months to complete the whole election process which includes registering as a candidate, being verified to run, campaigning, and Election Day.
Online Voting is a new process being introduced this year. There’s a lot at stake with this voting model that could be applied to other elections. Many people will be watching to see how it plays out — if it is clean and efficient — and how many online voters there are compared to at-the-polls voters.
One of the objectives of online voting is to increase the number of participants who opt for the convenience of voting by computer, tablet or phone. Allowing voting to occur during a three week window, up to and including Election Day, adds a convenience factor. The ratio of online voters to at-the-poll voters will be carefully studied.
For over ten years, thousands of citizens have participated as board members of the 96 certified Neighborhood Councils.
“We have about 1,850 board members,” said Jay Handal. “Each election sees about a 50 percent turn over. That means 900 new bodies every two years.”
Now that you know how important the neighborhood council system is and how it works — and the steps to take to become a candidate — are you ready to throw your hat into the ring?
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Video courtesy of Miracle Mile Residential Association. Edited for City Watch by Linda Abrams.