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Trutanich Calls for Reform of Neighborhood Council Elections

While the CIty Council ran circles around Jose Huizar’s “Voter Bill of Rights” on Friday, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich was proposing how to reform the Neighborhood Council election process to give the system more legitimacy.

With the deadline for action looming Tuesday, Huizar’s colleagues stalled votes on his proposals for Charter reforms to provide more money in city matching funds to candidates and instant runoff voting and watered-down the effort to extend mail-in ballots automatically to all registered voters to a possible ordinance for a test in the next Council special election.

That could come sooner than many might expect if Richard Alarcon is convicted of perjury and voter fraud.

Trutanich honed on three changes to NC elections:

1) clarifying the term “factual basis” stakeholder
2) establishing voter pre-registration, which will allow Neighborhood Council leaders to take a greater role in the determination of stakeholders eligibility to vote, while streamlining the election process for the City Clerk
3) requiring documentary proof of stakeholder status rather than granting voting privileges based on the voter’s self-affirmation of his or her stakeholder status.

“The stakeholder definition allowed individuals to assert any basis for their involvement with a Neighborhood Council,” Trutanich said in his letter to the City Council.

“Stakeholders” should be required to show “an ongoing and significant interest in a community,” he said.

.”The key problem is the CIty Council’s 2008 change that expanded the definition of a stakeholder to include anyone “who lives, works or owns property in the neighborhood and any individual who declares a stake in the neighborhood and affirms the factual basis for it.”

“Accordingly, the definition should provide criteria upon which to demonstrate a nexus with the neighborhood in order to ensure that a voter’s stake in the neighborhood is not merely incidental, but ongoing and continuous.”

Read the full letter (trutanich-NC.rtf).

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22 Responses to Trutanich Calls for Reform of Neighborhood Council Elections

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh…Now they want to change the rules, after the damage has been DONE. The NC charter should also allow for those same “stakeholders” to vote for the Mayor..etc.., or rather recall their city officials even if they live outside the city limits. A “stakeholder” is allowed some nefarious powers??? Some lawyers…were around before prehistoric sharks…they both haven’t evolved very much…Oh, where have I heard this before: “We’ll you know I am a lawyer..”…the fact is that real community members voted for these so called officials to represent their district’s interest and well-being; unfortunately, thanks to the existing NC charter we have what we have, we get developers, other neighboring city activist spoon feeding their own agendas at the expense of real Angelenos, …and these guys get paid the big bucks…easy prey we are…Most of these past NC’s votes/decisions should be NULL and VOID!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, just what we need, giving more power to the little oligarchs who generally make up the Board of NC’s now – retired people with time on their hands and their houses paid for, but who pay little in property taxes for that very reason.
    The NIMBY’s.
    Nothing wrong with NIMBYs but in many affluent neighborhood NC’s like mine that’s ALL that show up, who have time to or can fit into the clique.
    The same homeowners alternate even for the school and community seats, and so on.
    My NC Board is the same 15 or so people, rotating time after time, and NO ONE EVER SHOWS UP for their meetings. Or KNOWS they exist! Ther is NO PR or outreach. Oh, they talk about it a bit, but then realize it’s to their benefit to keep things just as they are. This is among the most active, vocal, militant such NC’s in the city, including one woman who organized and manipulated “debates” to favor Trutanich, cobbling together an alleged “coalition” among NC’s and HOA’s, including the SAME handful of activists who just so happen to overlap on their HOA and NC boards. What a FARCE.
    Trutanich wants “documentary evidence” that a person has a right to participate – meaning, they have to show a license or utility bill or rent, to a volunteer member of the NC!
    Sure he wants to give more power to the very small group of people who formed the basis of his campaign, centered around their billboard and NIMBY issues, their earnest belief they need to yank their councilmember around like a puppet.
    IF any more money goes to NC’s it should go not into their hands, but toward a genuine PR effort to let people know they even HAVE an NC, what it does and that they have a right to vote. To make those like “mine” truly democracies and not oligarchies operating in virtual secret, claiming to represent homeowners who don’t know they exist or what they do.
    I agree however that the self-defined status of who is a “stakeholder” is too vague. Right now it can be anyone who attends church or shops in a community, or even just drives through and doesn’t like the traffic congestion, anything.
    First there should be a community discussion about this. SHOULD churchgoers, who give to their church building and programs and maybe school, which all ARE vital contributors to a community, have the right? What about the guy who shops at Ralphs once a week? Must you own or rent something? In which case it can also backfire, and include the very develop people want to keep out or regulate, but not the parent at a local school who organizes a clean-up effort of the streets, let’s say.
    But under NO circumstances must these people be required to show PROOF TO SOME VOLUNTEER BOARD MEMBER who may have ulterior motives of their own. Anyway, what’s so scary about people who might be renters, cyclists or non homeowners, attending meetings and voting? It’s not like there are all that many such people in more affluent communities! It’s getting them to even KNOW about the existence of NC’s and show up that’s hard. Once they do, if they’re not part of the NIMBY clique they might be made to feel unwelcome. If anything, it’s the current Boards that need to be educated in being more inclusive.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The commenter’s use of the word “Nimby” says it all. People who live and rent in a neighborhood have every right to protect it. Everyone else is an intruder.

  4. Anonymous says:

    7:37PM writes “including one woman who organized and manipulated “debates” to favor Trutanich”
    You mean the debate that was moderated by Ron Kaye? How was that manipulated to favor Trutanich? All candidates were asked the same questions. All candidates were allowed to answer without interruptions or booing or cheering. The audience was respectful of all candidates at all times. I was there. Were you?

  5. J Turner says:

    To Anonymous on October 29, 2010 7:34 PM,
    The use of the word NIMBY is childish and meant to paint any opposition to new development as bad without an intelligent discussion and analysis of a new project.
    I would argue that those who “preach” high density are much like a religious cult – the “true believers” in the salvation of Los Angeles with sky skyscrapers. And then of course, there are the non-believers who have a financial interest in real estate development.
    When asked how high or how dense, they respond “no limits.” And they insist on linking high density near transit and that everyone will dump their cars and use public transportation.
    Of course, they don’t take into account the contradicting issue of water supply and infrastructure and increased density.
    We are in a desert, the water supply we have today will be reduced as we face chronic shortages and droughts. That is an disputable fact.
    Increasing density will increase water usage period and this is NOT sustainable.Endless growth will destroy Los Angeles and will worsen the quality of life as LA heads toward its destruction.

  6. Anonymous says:

    7:34 makes a very good point about the lack of participation at the NC meetings.
    Ive gone to several NCs in the Valley in the past few months, and there were fewer than 10 audience members at each one. They were overwhelmingly white and older.
    They were very serious and earnest, its true. They are giving their time and while ego is a big factor ( its always at least 1 or 2 who drone on )I have no doubt these are good and serious people.
    Except that very few people attend their meetings, and they are fairly unrepresentative.
    I think its important that they exist, but its just as important to realize that they represent a very narrow group of people.

  7. Anonymous says:

    10:55: No, I wasn’t there because I wasn’t invited. It was invitation ONLY. I don’t know if it’s the one moderated by Kaye (whose very very clear bias to Trutanich couldn’t be more obvious). Only pre-selected members of her little coterie were invited, the same cast of characters, held at a private home. It would have been like walking into the viper’s nest.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been to several NC meetings throughout the city and I have to say its a very poor showing of attendance. Most can’t even get a quroum and they don’t even do outreach. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years city council staffers getting on board which I think should NOT be allowed. Many NC boards now are nothing more then lapdogs to the council members because staffers help campaign to get the NC board members they want. City council members also make sure their projects get on the agenda and voted in their favor. Its all become a terrible SHAM. MacArthur Park has illegals sitting on boards and the Westside has tons of developers on their boards. Sadly, the NC’s aren’t what they once were under Mayor Hahn.

  9. Brad Smith says:

    All -
    Full disclosure – I am a founding member of the Granada Hills South NC, have been re-elected twice, and have served as its vice-president for two terms. I acknowledge the concerns the various anonymous commenters have made; there is a degree of reality to almost all of them, and trust me, those of us involved in NCs are well aware of them.
    The point about the “same 30 or so faces” is a very valid one, but as anyone involved in any sort of community or volunteer organzation knows well that is typical for almost any group -whether religious, or school-based, or youth sports, or a political campaign. Given the demands of work and family, anyone who can devote multiple hours of unpaid time every month to a cause is unusual in this day and age.
    The point about stakeholder turn-out is also valid; at GHSNC, we spend a significant proportion of our budget for outreach, but the reality is that unless there is a hot button development issue in the community, most stakeholders have other things to do – however, we have had literally hundreds of people turn out for a major development issue. That is pretty much the reality elsewhere, at least that I have seen.
    One other point worth making is that in a system of roughly 90 such organizations, the spectrum runs from the non-functional to the well-organized; generalizing about neighborhood councils is like the “generic ballot” poll questions. If there was such a thing as a generic Republican or generic Democratic candidate, they might be valid, but since there is not, we tend to vote for (or against) individual candidates. In the same way, we tend to have to deal with very specific neighborhood councils.
    Having said that, the NCs are heads and shoulder above what we used to have, at least in CD 12; to this day, I remember the then-councilman, Hal Bernson, arguing against elected neighborhoods during the debate over Charter reform by making the point that he “always listened to the people he appointed to his advisory boards.”
    That remains the attitude of most City Councilmembers to this day, I am afraid, and shows how important it is to elect councilmembers who believe in the NC system and want to give the NCs both responsibilities and authority.
    If Mr. Trutanich’s proposals can support that movement of power, so much the better, but the real key is electing City Councilmembers who see the NCs are a vital element of city governance – not just something to keep people occupied while the real exercise of power takes place in City Hall, on the golf course, or in a boardroom somewhere.
    Brad Smith

  10. Anonymous says:

    7:49 a.m., you have a strange logic. You call the good folks at a “private party” “a viper’s nest”, and then complain about not being invited.

  11. Anonymous says:

    My suggestion to all NC’s is to make them fun and interesting. Most are a long bag of wind egos speaking for way too long and everyone else chiming in. Its a complete waste of time of 2 hours getting nothing done. If the NC’s want more people to attend then make the damn meetings more interesting and not so boring. An NC meeting I attended had an agenda filled with great topics. They moved quickly and kept comments to 1 min per board member instead of on and on crap. The speakers were exciting and interesting. Most NC’s are boring that’s why no one goes. You should have topics that are crucial to the communities you rep and advise your board to shut the hell up and not everyone chime in at every agenda item. It wastes time. My question is what is Trutanich’s motive for all of a sudden wanting to do something about NC’s?????? He has an ulterior motive and why now does he care, doesn’t he have enough on his plate having his budget cut by the Mayor??? Brad Smith good luck, heard great things about you.

  12. Brad Smith says:

    10:18, thank you for the kind words. If you are in CD 12 or simply interested, please send an e-mail. We need all the help we can get.
    Brad Smith

  13. Anonymous says:

    10:18 AM asks what is Trutanich’s motive for all of a sudden wanting to do something about NC’s??????
    According to Trutanich’s letter to the Council, his interest was “based upon concerns expressed to our Office during and immediately after the recently concluded 2010 Neighborhood Council elections administered by the Office of the City Clerk.”
    For example, in the recent hotly contested elections for the new Westwood NC, all you needed to be accepted as a ‘stakeholder’ and be allowed to vote was to declare that you had shopped at the local Ralph’s. You didn’t need to live or work or own or rent property in the area. You didn’t even need to bring a receipt from Ralph’s. The potential for abuse is obvious, and there were complaints from both slates – but that’s the current rules. This is one of the issues Trutanich’s proposal is trying to address.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I have long advocated that a stakeholder should be one who has a financial and/or true personal interest in a community – as a property owner (residential and commercial), and as an apartment dweller. Those people have an actual stake in the governance of where they own or live. No other party is equal to those who own and/or live in a community. Yet, now they have to be treated equally with someone who goes to a temple, church, has a kid in a private school (and more).
    For what it is worth, my Neighborhood Council has been hijacked by one person who continues to serve as president because no one else wants the job. There is absolutely no regular outreach. The Council operates mostly in secret as a result.

  15. Anonymous says:

    To 7:49 AM:  There are over 60 homeowner associations (HOA) in your Council District 5. Since 2003, various volunteers who hold leadership positions in their respective homeowners associations have been meeting 3-4 times per year to discuss and try to resolve issues and problems that are common to all HOAs. Their purpose in banding together is to preserve and protect the quality of life in neighborhoods, probably even yours.  In 2008, for informational purposes, all the city attorney candidates were invited to participate in a forum with the leadership of these homeowner groups.  All candidates participated except for Jack Weiss, who never responded to repeated invitations by mail, email and telephone.  It was up to each HOA to select up to two of their own leaders to attend the forum so they could have representatives present who could report back to their Boards and Association members. More than 55 HOA leaders in Council District 5 attended the forum.  If you were not invited to attend the Forum as a representative of your HOA then perhaps you are not a leader in your own homeowners association.  You might want to consider getting more involved in your HOA.  As a sidenote, during the 2008 election period, if you wanted to attend a forum or debate with city attorney candidates, there were more than 10 opportunities to do so.   If you did not take advantage of any of these opportunities, that was your choice. 

  16. James McCuen says:

    To October 30, 2010 3:48 PM,
    I attended some of the Candidates forums in 2008 and 2009 for the 2009 City office candidates including one for City Attorney (Jack Weiss was a no-show).
    However, I was not aware that there was a candidate’s forum for City Attorney candidates just for HOA representatives. As much as I appreciate the hard work of community volunteers including those on HOA boards, I think that it is wrong for City office candidates to participate in a forum that excludes anyone.
    Even though many members of NC’s would like to modify the Brown Act (open meeting law) requirements. However having openness, inclusiveness, and transparency are positive efforts that we should all seek including HOAs.

  17. Tiva says:

    It takes 3 months to have the board of commissioners even consider proposals for revising an NCs bylaws. So how would Trutanich’s proposal even affect the NCs. It should be up to the NC to propose what prositions should be held on their board. As far as validation goes, all you can do is your best anyway. There was validation at the costly last election with poor turn out.
    I agree with the comment about NC meeting being boarding and long winded. The Brown Act is well intentioned but causes momentum slow down and dis-engaing for the audience if the issue being banged on is not their issue. I like the 1 minute rule but should be more like 2-3 minutes in all fairness to those who do come out and want to speak.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Re: James McCuen’s comments about “excluding” others from hearing candidates at debates. That is a privilege of any group hosting an event whether to hold open or closed gatherings. And if a candidate attends, etc., then you know this is something his/her handlers don’t think will backfire.
    One of the reasons why HOA groups are so effective is that they are not bound by city rules (i.e., Brown Act, etc.). Just keep in mind that the Neighborhood Council system was created to dilute the effectiveness of long-established HOA.
    There is a good reason why there are so many in CD5. That District is a gerrymandered one- purposely split into 2 geographical areas (Westside and the Valley). For too long the interests of the two were kept separate. But times have changed thus the need for CD5 HOA to come together and become a force to be reckoned with. Something I wish would happen more in other neighborhoods.
    And while I agree that all groups should strive for transparency, etc., that’s strictly a judgment call for any group given the scary political climate that’s LA. There are just times when you have to hold your cards close.

  19. James McCuen says:

    To October 31, 2010 1:17 PM,
    As you have gathered, I am not blaming the HOAs.
    I blame any candidate that would accept an invitation to an event that restricts audience entrance or limits audience participation by status such as only to HOA board members.
    But I would hope in the future that ALL Candidates for elected office would REFUSE to participate in any debate forum that restricts participation in any way.
    Over the years, I have heard/read about members of NC’s complaining about the Brown Act Requirements. But I would like to encourage everyone to embrace the Brown Act and be thankful for those who initiated it, strengthened it, and continue the fight asserting their rights under the Brown Act.
    Many of the vary issues that we all complain about such as behind-the-scenes plans to sell off City assets, DWP rate increases/money transfers, and Contract awards would be harder to expose and understand without the Brown Act.
    I ask you – what is wrong with transparency? What would you want to hide or keep secret from the public or people affected by your decision?
    Why would any elected official or neighborhood council want to hide their decision making, discussions, and voting? Wouldn’t they want to be able to defend and explain their position and in fact be proud of the positions and actions they take?
    If anything, I would like to make the Brown Act stronger, not weaker and eliminate “closed session” exemptions.
    And for Neighborhood Councils, I would not give them any break or waivers from the Brown Act. Everyone can use some sunshine.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Twenty-one comments and no one mention age limits? how many of you would agree that thirteen year olds should have any business votion in a neighborhood council election?
    All one has to do is investigate the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council past elections to find this scandal. BTW, you can link to Lincoln Heights Neighborhhod Council at Mayor Sam to reag about this group’s dubious past and their equally bad future.
    Scott Johnson in CD 14.

  21. Anonymous says:

    LA Times, Nov. 6, Patt Morrison’s interview with Wendy Gruel – Wedy says part of her job is oversight of Neighborhood Councils. Anybody know what oversight she has provided and how she has helped these Councils to move forward without the problems?

  22. Rebuilding Trust in Our Government
    One of Americas statesmen stated “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” His presidency ushered in an era of disdain for government and a widespread cynicism that government could be effective in addressing our challenges.
    Today, as we confront a crisis that has shaken confidence in our financial system and economy, we have an opportunity to restore public trust and confidence in the legitimate role of government. Indeed, to effectively tackle our economic challenges and to implement the reforms we need in our healthcare, education, energy, and environmental policies, our government will need to garner strong public support.
    However, rebuilding public trust will not happen in the face of a pervasive perception that government is not transparent and accountable, cronyism is rampant, and public officials are more interested in helping themselves than in serving the public good.
    Taking strong, swift, and decisive action to address abuses and begin to rebuild public trust should be the first priority for our city, state and federal government in the new legislative session.
    Create a Task Force on Public Integrity with a mission to develop a comprehensive proposal for ethics and lobbying reform in our city and state. Which addresses reforms in three areas: (1) strengthening enforcement of ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying laws; (2) strengthening civil and criminal penalties for abuses; and (3) improving awareness and education for public officials.
    Reinforce honesty, integrity and transparency by government officials as the core requirement to be and stay in office, any violations of these core tenets will cause the removal of the public official and the loss of “all benefits” retroactive.
    While the many of our elected officials and government employees are honest, dedicated public servants, the actions of a few create a dark cloud over all.
    Taking strong, swift, and decisive action to address these abuses and begin to rebuild public trust should be the first priority for our city, state and federal government in the new legislative session.
    Compiled by: YJ Draiman

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