Elections needed for neighborhood councils, Parks says

imageOne thing was clear after Thursday night’s special city council committee meeting: the neighborhood councils need change. And fast.

Neighborhood council systems are established in several major cities throughout the country, including Tacoma, Wash., and San Diego, Calif.

In communities like South Los Angeles, neighborhood councils are supposed to function as an extension of the city council that involves resident participation. They are supposed to be responsive to local needs and serve as the voice of their constituents to the city government.

Several neighborhood councils make up South Los Angeles including the Empowerment Congress north, central and west councils, the Vermont Harbor Neighborhood Council and the Vernon/Main Neighborhood Council, to name a few.

After holding four special committee meetings throughout the city, Councilmember Bernard Parks said he heard complaints across the board about the 12-year-old neighborhood council system — everything from the councils needing clearly defined rolls to calls for dissolution of the whole system.

“From listening to the four meetings (the election process) seems to be the No. 1 issue,” said Parks, who was recently appointed chair of the Education and Neighborhoods Committee of the Los Angeles City Council.

Elections in the various councils has been cancelled for the last year in an attempt to save money, but council board members and stakeholders urged Parks to reinstate them so that they could elect their peers, rather than having only appointed representatives.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is a network of 90 neighborhood councils throughout Los Angeles and many of the complaints heard Thursday were about its failure to hear complaints from shareholders about abuses of power by members of the councils.

Nora Sanchez from the Greater Echo Park area said she filed a grievance in 2009 because her council wouldn’t provide materials translated into Spanish — a language she believes is spoken by many of the residents in her neighborhood.

“They want the Latinos’ help once it comes time to voting,” Sanchez said. “But they don’t care the rest of the time (if we are informed).”

After getting the runaround for years, Sanchez simply stopped going. She now hopes that Parks will be able to reform the system.

David Rockello, president of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, said an easy way to fix the grievance process would be to put everything online.

“There are no forms, there is no real, formal way to complain,” he said. “It’s a venting and a catharsis that people need if there are issues in their neighborhood.”

But reform isn’t good enough for Ida Talalla, an Echo Park resident who previously served on her neighborhood council. She wants the system obliterated, or at least the Great Echo Park Elysian Council.

“The council needs to be investigated by the FBI and de-certified,” Talalla said. “We are going to be the Bell City poster child of neighborhood councils.”

Talalla said that she was pushed out of her neighborhood council as a result of the appointment system that replaced elections and when she tries to voice her opinion now, she said she is verbally harassed and laughed at.

“What does it take to be heard?” she asked Parks.

Parks will be meeting with his committee in the coming weeks to sort through what was said at the various public meetings and make recommendations to the full City Council.

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