The Pacific Palisades Community Council voted unanimously to approve a motion that urges the Los Angeles City Council to provide more advance notice for community input on pertinent issues and for city council members to interact in step with neighborhood and community councils.
"[Councilman Bernard Parks] must not know very much about us because he came out and damned us, basically, saying that neighborhood councils and community councils don't do enough outreach," said PPCC President Janet Turner on a recent criticism levied by City Councilman Bernard Parks against local citizens' panels. Turner explained the context of Parks' critique centered around an issue regarding attempts to consolidate trash collection for businesses that entailed the city hiring one particular sanitation vendor.
In line with the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils' response, the PPCC approved the following stance:
A- Neighborhood Councils are NOT advised in advance of issues. In many cases, Neighborhood Councils are never apprised of issues, thereby making it impossible for the NC's to get the word out, get feedback, and deliver said feedback to the elected officials. Many issues only come to the attention of the NC's within 72 hours of the issue being heard by the City Council. As the elected officials must realize, NC's are bound by the Brown Act and do not have the ability to respond officially within such a short period of time. There isn't even enough time to file a Community Impact Statement.
B- The current DONE contact list is several years out of date. It is virtually impossible to get any kind of timely notice to the entire Neighborhood Council system. The present policy only allows each individual board member to update their personal information. The Secretary of each NC should be given a password and allowed to provide this information for their entire Board. Failure to do so should result in DONE hiring temp staff to do it for them with the salaries being deducted from the NC's yearly funding assessment.
C- When Neighborhood Council members, many of whom have to take time from their work, appear before a Committee or the whole Council, they are routinely given two minutes to report or give public comment on an issue. It is extremely difficult to give any kind of reasoned response in this short time allotment. If the City Council really wanted input from official NC representatives they should allow a reasonable time period for official input. Only last year, a Committee Chair combined four agenda items into one public comment period. Speakers were given two minutes to speak on four very different items. Not only did this negate any kind of meaningful input, but it was disrespectful of the NC representatives who took the time to travel downtown with the hope of real participation.
D- The relationship between Neighborhood Councils and their respective Council offices is a mixed bag. Some Council offices work closely with their NC's and actually request their input on certain issues. There are other Council offices that could care less about NC's and would actually like them to go away. Some don't even have the courtesy to return phone calls. If the goal of your motion is to explore ways for better citizen input - it has to start at the top.
E- There has been a systemic demolition of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment caused by the City's inability to generate revenue and cut expenses in a more prudent way, but there has been no reduction in the amount of services that they are required to provide. There is no question that this lack of a proper staffing level has caused the Department and the NC system to falter in their ability to stay fully informed. The staff at DONE has been reduced from a 2008 level of 49 employees with 18 field reps, to the current level of 15 employees with 7 field reps. During the same time period, the number of Neighborhood Councils has risen from 89 to 95. DONE is the NC's direct conduit to the City government and is in the best position to notify the Neighborhood Councils about upcoming legislation. Someone should be assigned to keep track of upcoming hearings and meetings but each current staff person is already trying to handle the work load of three previous workers.
F- City Council members are busy people, but if they really wanted Neighborhood and Community Council input they would show up at meetings to hear it. Public testimony at full Council meetings is a farce. The members are talking on cell phones, meeting with constituents, or leaving the chamber for large periods of time. How can Neighborhood and Community Councils take their role seriously if the decision makers don't or if, as in some cases, they have already decided how to vote and could care less about what we have to say or the amount of time it took us to formulate our recommendations.