The City Council Budget Committee did us all a favor by drawing a line through Neighborhood Councils by gutting their funding.
By slashing funding for NCs by 80 percent in the name of “shared sacrifice,” Bernard Parks’ committee — Bill Rosendahl, Greig Smith, Jose Huizar and the absent City Controller-elect Wendy Greuel — has challenged NC activists to accept their irrelevance in the minds of city officials and provoked a discussion about whether this experiment is a failure and should be abandoned.
It’s now or never.
I’ve heard from dozens of angry people suggesting NC presidents and NC coalition leaders take immediate action to confront city officials, organize email and phone call campaigns, stage protests at City Hall. I’m all for those actions. (CityCouncilcontacts.xls)
Others say that with the exception of a few, NCs are nothing but talking societies and a waste of time and money, a tool of City Hall to keep the natives quiet and ineffective. There’s truth in what they say.
Personally, I embrace both points of view.
NCs were set up to fail as part of City Charter reform that was derailed by the same special interests that have bankrupted the city and produced policies that chased away good-paying jobs, swelled the ranks of the poor, did nothing about gangs, densified the city and allowed the neighborhoods and infrastructure to deteriorate.
In the face of the Valley secession movement, Mayor Richard Riordan and civic leader David Fleming pushed for charter reform as a way to keep LA whole and change the political culture. The goal was a system of boroughs or Neighborhood Councils with authority over development and other important local issues.
Resistance from City Council members and the special interests who have owned them for so long produced advisory NCs without authority that were implemented in a way that deliberately created a chaotic, hodgepodge of largely ineffective community groups.
But it was a starting point, the beginnings of grassroots democracy spurred by the widespread discontent with City Hall.
Ten years later, democracy has taken hold in LA and the energy for change has grown deeper and stronger.
This is the moment we have been waiting for, the time to confront City Hall and demand deconstruction of a political system that has failed us for too long.
If NCs want to survive and have any credibility, activists will have to lead the fight for real change in the structure of city government to achieve a balance of interests in the policies and actions of our elected officials.
The NC movement will live or die on the actions of the 1,600 people directly involved in the 89 NCs across the city.
Whatever the outcome of their fight, the drive for transparency, efficiency and inclusiveness will go on with greater energy. Participatory democracy is an idea whose time has come in America, an idea that is desperately needed to bring LA together in all its rich diversity and make it the great city that was always its destiny.
This is America. I know it’s hard to believe sometimes but ordinary citizens have rights too. And that’s what this about.
We cannot afford to be passive bystanders as our city, our state, our nation teeter on the brink. From the bottom of my heart, I believe the taking back of America from the special interests that have failed us, from the political leaders who have failed us, starts right here in LA.
The outcome, it seems to me, is certain. So to Councilman Parks and his colleagues, I say thanks. You have shown your contempt for the people, for democracy, and escalated the tensions between us.
Sooner rather than later, you will learn that government in America is constituted of, by and for the people.