So who gets say in L.A.?
Answer lies in how 'stakeholder' defined
Article Last Updated: 07/08/2007 09:54:23
Tackling one of the most contentious issues facing Los
Angeles' neighborhood council system, the panel charged
with reviewing the grass-roots network is weighing who
should have a voice on the councils.
Residents and business owners are obvious stakeholders.
But what about a real estate agent? Should one be allowed
to run for a seat on a neighborhood council in an area
where the real estate agent is selling homes?
Should a Northridge resident be able to serve on a
committee of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council because
his child goes to school in that community?
What about someone who lunches three times a week at
Pink's Hot Dogs? Should that person be allowed to vote on
the Mid City West Community Council?
Ultimately, the definition of "stakeholder"
is at the heart of the debate over the entire neighborhood
council system: What role do the boards play in Los
Angeles city government, and who is allowed to represent a
"There has been a persistent worry that
neighborhood councils will be taken over by groups who
don't really represent the community," said Raphael
Sonenshein, executive director of the Neighborhood Council
Review Commission, a 29-member board charged with
analyzing and reforming the city's system of grass-roots
"If the system is going to work, the doors have to
be affirmatively open. The answer is not to make the doors
less open in the beginning, but to figure out what to do
when people come in the door," he said.
In that spirit, the review commission recently adopted
a definition of "stakeholder" that welcomes
anyone who lives, works or does business in a
neighborhood, as well as anyone who claims a stake in the
community through an affiliation.
It's a wide definition that leaves some questions -
including whether an affinity for Pink's Hot Dogs would
qualify as an affiliation.
"We ultimately went for the broad definition and
what is going to make the most people participate in city
government," said Jason Lyon, co-chairman of the
commission and a member of the Silver Lake Neighborhood
Local boards can be structured, with seats divided
among different stakeholder groups - such as homeowners,
renters, business owners, workers and others - so no one
group can dominate a council.
Still, some community residents fear that the broad
definition will weaken neighborhood councils and leave
them open to takeovers by special interests.
Former Sun Valley Neighborhood Council member Jerry
Piro said local trash companies bused workers to vote in a
recent council election, bumping him and other community
activists off the board in favor of more business-friendly
He fears the new board won't aggressively question
several major trash-facility expansions.
"I feel these are absentee landlords," Piro
said. "The title itself says `neighborhood council,'
and that's the people who live here, and that's who should
have the largest voice."
At least two neighborhood councils - the coastal San
Pedro and the Westchester/Playa del Rey councils - voted
to oppose the proposed definition.
The Westchester/Playa del Rey board said expanding the
definition would "displace and dilute the
representation of those who live, work and own property
within its current boundary."
But commission member Charlotte Laws, who sits on the
Valley Glen Neighborhood Council, said the current
stakeholder qualification varies among councils - and
that's confusing for people who want to participate.
Her own council says nonresident members of community
organizations can run for election to the neighborhood
council board only if their group is an official
tax-exempt, nonprofit organization.
But that excluded a local Valley Glen group that helps
the homeless because the group is not registered with the
Internal Revenue Service.
"I'm a real estate agent," Laws said. "I
sell in a lot of neighborhoods, and there were many
communities (in which) I didn't know if I was a
stakeholder or not," Laws said.
"With the new definition, at least I know there is
a place for me somewhere."
The Neighborhood Council Review Commission has released
a list of recommendations to reform the neighborhood
council system. The commission is holding hearings this
month to discuss them. For a list of the recommendations,
go to www.ncrcla.org.
Public meetings are set for:
6 p.m. Tuesday, Salesian High School, 960 S. Soto
6 p.m. Thursday, University High School, 11800 Texas
Ave., West Los Angeles
6 p.m. July 17, Panorama High School, 8015 Van Nuys
Blvd., Panorama City
6 p.m. July 19, L.A. Harbor College, 1111 Figueroa