August 3, 2001
The Honorable Members of the City Council
Room 395, City Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90012
As you may be aware, I am concerned that the current Department of Neighborhood Empowerment ("DONE") plan does not provide the neighborhood councils with the necessary tools to impact the delivery of city services and to have their voice heard in any meaningful way. It will be my goal in future budgets to include funding to provide direct financial resources to neighborhood councils. In the meantime, there are a number of steps that can be taken to enhance the impact of the councils once they are certified later this fall. I am urging the Council to consider and to take steps to implement these recommendations so we can improve the proposed neighborhood council system and provide our neighborhoods with a strong voice at City Hall. My recommendations are the following:
1. Designate Neighborhood Commissioners to Have Regional as well as Citywide Oversight of Neighborhood Council Policy
To supplement DONE staff and provide leadership to neighborhood councils, each member of the Commission on Neighborhoods should have oversight of the neighborhood councils within specified geographic areas. In this way, neighborhood councils would have an advocate dedicated to their specific concerns. Additionally, each Neighborhood Commissioner would be able to develop a regional perspective on the variety of issues affecting neighborhood councils.
2. Require Community Impact Statements for City Council Actions Affecting Neighborhoods
The current neighborhood council plan establishes a mechanism -- known as the Early Notification System -- by which neighborhood councils will receive information about pending City issues and have the ability to provide input. However, the City Council and Mayor remain free to disregard this input.
One way to assure that neighborhood councils' concerns are taken in to account is to require that Council agendas and city reports upon which the City Council and the Mayor rely in their decision making, indicate the position taken by the neighborhood councils impacted by the decision at issue.
Currently, every item in the City Council Agenda with a financial component includes a "Financial Impact Statement" which sets forth the cost of the item. The City should also include a "Community Impact Statement" which indicates the Neighborhood Council's position and briefly describes the basis for this decision. Only then can a neighborhood council have confidence that its viewpoint achieves the visibility it deserves. Moreover, while the Councilmember of the Council District in which the neighborhood council is located may be aware of its position, this procedure would present a community's concerns to the City Council as a whole.
3. Create Neighborhood Action Plans to Assure Two-Way Communication Between Neighborhood Councils and the City
The flow of information under the current plan's Early Notification System is from the City to neighborhood councils and back. However, equally important is for neighborhood councils to provide elected officials with early notification of a community's own emerging issues.
One way to make sure that communities have direct input to elected officials is to establish a system by which neighborhood councils, with the assistance of staff from various City departments, would have the option to submit to the Mayor and City Council, Neighborhood Action Plans in which the neighborhood council sets forth a community's key goals and concerns. The City Council would in turn be required to review and adopt each action plan. As a result, elected officials could not later disavow knowledge of a community problem when it eventually surfaces. This approach is followed in such cities as Seattle and Vancouver where community members and city staff work together to develop the steps to accomplish their goals. Communities then report on their progress on a monthly basis to make sure that their goals become a reality.
Los Angeles should go one step further and create a process in which neighborhood councils inform the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment when the council is alerted to a new community issue. It should then be the responsibility of the Department to disseminate this information to the appropriate City agencies.
Take, for example, the situation in which a neighborhood council informs the Department of new graffiti proliferation. The Department would in turn share this information with the Police Department to address the criminal aspect of this issue, the Board of Public Works to address clean-up, as well as the Council office. In this way, communities will get the integrated problem solving envisioned in the City Charter.
4. Mandate that Neighborhood Councils Have Input in the City Budget and in Service Delivery Priorities
Neighborhood councils must have a voice in the most important areas impacting communities -- the City's Budget and service delivery. With respect to the Budget, neighborhood councils must play a role in each step of the budget process -- City Departments' preparation of their Budget proposals for consideration by the Mayor, the Mayor's preparation of the Mayor's annual proposed Budget, and the City Council's review and adoption of the Budget subject to the Mayor's veto.
Before submitting their budgets to the Mayor, City Departments must receive input from neighborhood councils on community priorities and develop a budget proposal which reflects this input. The Mayor must in turn present the annual City Budget to neighborhood councils for their review and comment. Neighborhood Councils must also be able to submit motions for the City Council's consideration prior to the City Council's approval of the Budget.
It is also essential that neighborhood councils have a voice in the allocation of City services to a given community - whether its which trees get trimmed or which street gets paved. Accordingly, City departments must receive input from neighborhood councils and develop annual work plans which reflect this input.
5. Provide a Role for Neighborhood Councils in General Manager Performance Reviews
Neighborhood Councils must play a meaningful role in evaluating the General Managers of City Departments. Community members are best positioned to evaluate whether a City Department has delivered an appropriate level of services and the manner in which those services are delivered. Yet, right now, community members have no voice in the evaluation of General Managers and their salary levels.
To correct this omission, neighborhood councils should provide General Manager evaluations to the Mayor and form a basis of the Mayor's General Manager performance review.
6. Require City Departments to Meet with Neighborhood Councils Quarterly on a Regional Basis
It is not enough for information to be conveyed by the City over the Internet to City residents. This practice in no way brings government closer to residents as was promised to voters in the City Charter. In order to put a face to government and develop a dialogue with residents about how and why services are delivered, City Departments must meet with neighborhood councils quarterly on a regional basis, organized around each of the City's Area Planning Commissions, both to present their upcoming plans and explain the status of current issues. Additionally, those departments most directly involved in service delivery to communities such as Public Works, the Department of Building & Safety, and LAPD, should meet with neighborhood councils more frequently as needed.
7. Provide Neighborhood Councils with a Means to Alert the City to Important Issues
The proposed neighborhood council plan's emphasis on an information flow from the City to residents ignores the fact that Los Angeles residents are already well informed about a broad array of issues and are often more informed than their government representatives. In many cases, a community's problem has not been the lack of information but rather not having the ability to have its concerns acknowledged and responded to by City government.
Neighborhood Councils must therefore have the ability to pass resolutions expressing positions on Citywide issues. These Resolutions must in turn be placed on the Council Agenda for adoption. In this way, neighborhood councils will have a direct voice in City government and government will serve as an Early Notification System to government of citywide issues impacting communities.
Very truly yours,
JAMES K. HAHN
|This web site has been developed by virtualtour3D.com, a subsidiary of Urban Concepts. All content is the copyrighted property of virtualtour3D.com. Reproduction or other use of this material without permission is prohibitted. For additional information, contact the webmaster.|