Los Angeles's system of Neighborhood Councils, often severe critics of our highly-paid City Council, managed to evade having their budgets cut by nearly 80 percent through loud citizen activism and complaints this month.
From the L.A. Weekly's account:
On the eve of the May 12 L.A. City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting, a vast network of neighborhood councils, some 1,500 volunteers strong, was planning its attack. "There is an incredible amount of chatter," said Len Schaffer, chairman of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council and of the broader Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition. The Budget and Finance Committee, made up of three City Council members, had just heard public comment on a plan by Bernard Parks and Greig Smith to drastically cut the $45,000 budgets of all 90 thriving neighborhood councils....The City Council lavishes public money on itself and its favored support groups, but it spent several days threatening to slash the neighborhood councils' tiny budgets to $11,200 each. Such a move would have crippled the very groups that most closely watch, and often critique, the City Council.... Slashing the budgets of the neighborhood councils would have had zero effect on the city's vast deficit, but the most outspoken advocate of the cuts, Parks, insisted the move could save some city jobs.... But Doane Liu, former deputy mayor for neighborhoods under James Hahn, who oversaw much of the implementation of the neighborhood council system, laughed at the notion that the thin-skinned City Council, which is often pilloried by neighborhood council leaders for its mishandling of city affairs, was really out to save money.... Then, on Monday, May 18, hammered by angry bloggers, neighborhood leaders, skeptical journalists and a host of other critics, the City Council relented, fully restoring the $45,000 to each neighborhood council.
The Downtown News praises this result as a sign of citizens helping keep the City Council and mayor in line:
The mayor and the City Council bear the burden of proposing unpopular options to make budgets pencil out, and as the past has shown, they will sometimes try to sneak things by; just think of the "holiday hustle," when plans are pushed forward on the last Council session before the winter break, when relatively few people are paying attention.In this case, citizens were listening and bolted into action. It is clear that the neighborhood councils have become an important part of Los Angeles' system of checks and balances.
The most thorough coverage of the Neighborhood Council crisis, with strong defenses of their value to their communities (usually combined with jabs at the City Council for protecting their huge salaries and slush funds tenaciously) in May came from Ron Kaye's indispensable blog, featuring calls for the preservation of the Council's from Doug Epperhart of Coastal San Pedro's Neighborhood Council, David Bell of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, and Greg Nelson, former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, among others.
For an opposing view, Kaye presented the jaundiced judgment of former LAPD officer Clark Baker, who thinks that:
Gadflies and neighborhood advocates formed NC's thinking they would finally have a real voice, but I knew they were nothing more than...self-important groups that were promised a pittance and a real voice in government as long as they kept the heat off of the local council and mayor. Except for a few moments of success, NC's are little more than a way to make people think they had a real voice in government.