By Edwin Folven, 7/05/2012
Neighborhood councils regularly consider projects proposed by developers and provide recommendations to the Los Angeles City Council. While many people praise the neighborhood councils as an extra level of scrutiny, there is no system in place for gauging their effectiveness when it comes to projects being approved or disapproved.
B.H. Kim, the general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees neighborhood councils, said the city does not provide the resources to conduct studies on the effectiveness of the councils. Kim said the effectiveness varies widely between council districts, and one factor is whether the councils have credibility. In some areas, meetings are poorly attended and there is a lack of involvement. In others, he said the neighborhood councils provide strong representation, and that they are an effective tool used by city council members when making decisions.
“Their role is to give advice to city government on issues of local concern, and involve more people in city government,” Kim said. “Some are thoughtful in their feedback and are not just saying ‘no’ to everything. We find that when they work with the developers, and listen to the constituents, they work much more effectively.”
Kim said the Mid-City West Community Council (MCWCC), which serves the Wilshire area, is one of the more effective councils. He added that the MCWCC is the largest neighborhood council in the city, with 45 members, but that it also represents a very diverse area with high population density.
“Over the years, I would say they are one of the better ones,” Kim said. “They seem to have a lot of development pressure. They have a lot of developers coming in and homeowners groups that want to prevent that, and they have to have a balance. The leadership and the facilitation of diverse viewpoints are some of the most important things a neighborhood council can do.”
Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles, confirmed that there have been no studies as to the effectiveness of neighborhood councils. Sonenshein was a member of the Neighborhood Council Review Commission that met in 2005 to ensure the neighborhood council system was up and running, but he added that since then, there hasn’t been much study.
“It is kind of spotty. There is not a lot of quantifiable data,” Sonenshein said. “[After meeting in 2005] we didn’t have a single answer whether they were influential or not. Some were more influential than others, and it depended on the relationship with the councilmember.”
Some city council members said they put a lot of value in the neighborhood council decisions. Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, said although he sometimes disagrees with the councils, he considers their recommendations.
“I have always listened to the neighborhood councils, and can count on my fingers the times I have disagreed with them. Even then, their opinion still shapes the project and my decision,” Koretz said. “When all of the stakeholders come together, it is certainly worth listening to. I pay a lot of attention to their decisions.”
Julie Wong, deputy to Councilmember Eric Garcetti, 13th District, added that he also regularly considers neighborhood council decisions, and added that the councils are an important part of the decision-making process.
“It definitely carries weight in our office,” Wong added. “All the time when he is meeting with people about a project, the first thing that is asked is ‘what does the neighborhood council think about the project’? If the person proposing the project says they don’t know, he’ll tell them to go get their opinion.”
Kim and Sonenshein said it would be interesting to learn how much weight the neighborhood council decisions have.
“We don’t have the resources to do it,” Kim said. “It is something a college or researchers would have to take on.”