Wednesday, April 05, 2006

On Representation: Neighborhood Councils

A few years back, in the dark times, Mayor Richard Riordan set about to reform the LA City Charter. In the grand Republican, limited government tradition, he removed from the representative branch of municipal government some of its troubling autonomy and power and re-centralized it in the Mayor's office.

The bit of bait he tossed back to the city: neighborhood councils.

Anecdotally, I overheard a group of women at Pacific Diner, the morning before I left for England, chatting about how they no longer attend neighborhood council meetings. Originally, said one woman, they were interesting and really grass-roots, they way they were meant to be, she believed. Now, however, the powers that be had really felt their power as it were, she no longer felt free to express her views, and the whole thing felt very top heavy and non-inclusive.

Anyway, there are a few who believe so passionately in the power of neighborhood councils, they get themselves elected to more than one. Yes, nothing says true representation than unification through common leadership. Never mind that San Pedro has, I can only assume, 3 neighborhood councils for a reason (what that reason is, I won't pretend to know, but we do). Never mind that I would think at higher levels of government, the people of one represented body might reasonably cry "conflict of interest" were their city councilmember also a member of the council in the city next door. No, neighborhood councils are IT. They will save us from ourselves, from Target, and from housing - especially for seniors, a scourge on every community.

And so we come to this More San Pedro column in which the author says the only way to get San Pedrans out of their racially and ethnically isolated groups is through neighborhood councils. The only way to express our voices to developers is through neighborhood councils. And fortunately for us, the author is herself, on the board of two neighborhood councils, so she can speak especially loudly. "Every San Pedro adult has voting rights in at least one council," she writes. At least one? How many can I get? If I pull a trifecta, is there a special badge? And why limit ourselves. As far as I know, there's not much stopping me from joining all the neighborhood councils in the city - after all, I drove through the Valley once - they must have some up there.

Representative government depends on the active participation of the people. Neighborhood councils purport to be branches of representative government at the grassroots level. But for meaningful representation, the representatives should really pick a turf and represent. Consolidate the councils if you wish, but duplicating leadership makes a mockery of the process.

"Regardless of the opinions you may hold of the councils today, they have a mandate to represent everyone who lives, works or owns property within the council boundaries," writes the author. Too bad the sentence doesn't also include who does the representing.


Anonymous said...

Neighborhood councils portend to be branches of representative government at the grassroots level.

Are you sure you mean portend, and not purport?

Anonymous said...

Whoopsie. The danger of high speed posting.

into all posts, a little typo must fall.

Anonymous said...

of course, "pretend" would've worked too.