BongHwan Kim announced today that he's resigning as general manager of the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment on August 4 — and departing Los Angeles — to take a position in San Diego. He will become vice president and executive director for civic engagement at the San Diego Foundation. This means he's out of the race for the 13th Council District, the crowded derby to choose a successor next year to termed-out mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti.
Kim released a statement, which says in part:
As I leave my home city of 25 years, for this awesome opportunity to make a difference in my new home community of San Diego, I'm called to reflect on what Los Angeles has meant for me.
From my humble beginnings as a first generation immigrant struggling as an outsider to find my sense of belonging in this new country, in New Jersey of all places, I never would have imagined I would be given the amazing opportunities to serve and help others and work for social change that I have.
These opportunities started from my early work in Koreatown to expand opportunities for recent immigrants to the Los Angeles riots in April 1992, when I was suddenly confronted with the shocking tragedy of the worst urban rioting in modern history. This was a life changing event which claimed 54 lives and snatched away the American dreams of over 800 Korean families who violently lost their businesses overnight through no fault of their own. Through that painful experience, and more recently with Neighborhood Councils, it has become clearer to me than ever that the role of communities and government must change in some fundamental ways.
Most recently with my work in city government as the longest serving General Manager for Neighborhood Empowerment (an awesome job title) of the most ambitious and promising civic engagement in the country, I have been truly inspired by the amazing work of volunteers throughout this great city who have answered the call and are devoting so much of their time, heart, and spirit to improve the way government works with neighborhoods.
Leading the Department over the past five years, has been the most challenging, yet inspiring, experience of my professional life. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish during this time in building a more stable foundation for neighborhood empowerment.
After being cutback by more than 50% due to the fiscal crisis, we shifted our role by recruiting former Neighborhood Council Board members to provide direct assistance to their struggling peers. Councils 4 Councils is now in place and able to send out peer veterans to advice those who are new to neighborhood governance. Over time, it is possible to envision the system being largely self supporting through a volunteer driven system with city staff playing more of a facilitative, dot connecting role.
Through regular attendance at regional coalition meetings, we built closer relationships with Neighborhood Council leaders who viewed city staff with suspicion and distrust. Many remarked how unusual it was for a General Manager to be attending so many evening meetings in the community.
Bylaws are the constitution and the "rules of the road" for each Neighborhood Council. Coming into the department, I found that the by-laws were a complete mess fraught with inconsistencies, vague or missing language around key sections which determine how Neighborhood Councils make decisions and are accountable to the public. When Boards would get locked in conflict, their bylaws were useless in guiding them out of difficulties. Working with the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners and Neighborhood Council leaders, we now have set the standard for clearer and consistent bylaws for all 95 Neighborhood Councils.
Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils are not only leading the way nationally, but internationally as well. Delegations from Japan, Venezuela, and Canada have come to visit with us and have been fascinated to find what the second largest city in the most powerful nation in the world is doing around empowering everyday people to claim their rightful space in democracy. In fact, the Mayor of Nagoya is currently looking to abolish its city council and replacing them with Neighborhood Councils making the decisions for themselves. Imagine the possibilities....
We are currently on track to successfully complete citywide Neighborhood Council elections in less than half the time and budget than ever before. More importantly, we have launched an ambitious outreach campaign to increase the visibility of Neighborhood Councils while reminding Angelenos of the central purpose - to involve more people and improve government responsiveness to neighborhood needs. We also recruited veteran Neighborhood Council activists to serve as election administrators who are now working in partnership with Board volunteers to recruit as many candidates as possible. It's possible to imagine that, one day, more people may turn out to vote for Neighborhood Council Board seats than City Council seats because voting for your neighbor is a more direct connection to City Hall.