It's odd that in this day of easy Internet communication and web sites that the Los Angeles neighborhood councils have so much trouble reaching out to residents and to the city government.
That was one of the most interesting findings of the Neighborhood Council Study Commission report on ways of pumping life into bodies that are supposed to give L.A.'s many and diverse neighborhoods a voice in City Hall.
City Hall considers the councils more of an annoyance than a voice. Government tries to shackle them in the same sort of mindless bureaucracy that has made city government a dark hole for anyone who wants to influence policy or just find out what's going on.
The councils were created during the Valley secession fight. The theory was that people would meet in the neighborhoods, discuss local problems and then influence the solution. The decision to make them advisory rendered the councils toothless when it came to actually writing new laws or voting on zoning decisions. But the councils remained a potential source of citizen influence.
City hall quickly took care of that. The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment was supposed to provide support and encouragement to the volunteers on the councils. Instead, the commission said, the department staff spends its time on reviewing neighborhood council bylaws, untangling council election disputes and going over council finances in a bean counter fashion.
That's City Hall. Immerse yourself in bureaucratic details. You can't get in trouble by being a bean counter.
The council recommended that the department employees take on the tough job of helping the councils organize neighborhoods and build up their membership. And, the report said the council and the department should use the Internet to organize, just as every sharp political group in America is now doing. "While a significant percentage of neighborhood councils have their own websites…many do not and those that are in existence are often not maintained with regularity, " the study commission said. Its report said the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment should step in with its web capability and help out the council volunteers.
Organizing and coming up with creative web interactive programs is much more difficult than going over financial reports and nitpicking for possible rule violations. I don't know if the city hall people are up to it.
There are many Los Angeles community organizers who are very successful. Recently I have watched ACORN and the Coalition for Economic Survival as they fought for the rights of renters. ACORN organizers go door to door in poor neighborhoods, persuading people to attend meetings, rally at city hall and generally raise hell. They are on the streets from late in the afternoon until early evening,
That's what the staff of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment should do. The commission report said the department should learn how to do this challenging work.
But even if the department wants to do it, I bet this kind of grassroots activity is not what the mayor and the city council have in mind for the neighborhood councils.