'Trash Talk' Dominates Packed NC Committee Meeting at City Hall
Following an unusually packed Education and Neighborhood Committee meeting Friday, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks appeared pleased that more than the same six people had shown up. Well over fifty people had filled up the committee chamber's pew-like benches.
"This is the largest number of people we've ever gotten," he said of the Sept. 28 meeting.
But most were there to oppose the city's plan to go to exclusive contracts with trash haulers that serve multi-unit residences and commercial businesses. It's not a typical subject for this committee — the meeting was also called to discuss neighborhood council outreach efforts — but Parks says that's exactly what they're trying to change.
Los Angeles' decade-old neighborhood council system apparently has an outreach problem, and in turn these committee meetings have not been known for high turnouts, said Parks, who chairs the three-person committee.
Friday's afternoon meeting was a "test" to see how many people would show up, especially when it was something that mattered to people. "We sent out well over a hundred letters to people saying we were going to address this issue," he said. Parks deemed the effort a success.
"If you live in the city of LA and somebody's talking about changing the way your trash is picked up, we think that's a relevant subject that the neighborhood councils should be all over. You would think," Parks said. He added these meetings are not just for neighborhood council members, but also members of the general public who needed a place to vent, especially when other committees like the Planning Commission restricted the amount of time for public comment on this particular waste hauling issue.
Parks says he held four meetings around the city when he first got onto the committee and discovered to his surprise that neighborhood council meetings were poorly attended. "We kept asking them, where are the communities you say you represent?" he said, recalling that there did not seem to be very much outreach being done by the councils.
Not everyone impressed
But not everyone was impressed by Park's little experiment on Friday, which consisted of an hour long staff discussion on the waste hauling issue held before public comment.
"This is wrong what you people have done today," one neighborhood council board member said. He felt the meeting should have devoted less time to talk of trash, and more on figuring out ways to help neighborhood councils conduct more outreach.
The amount of time spent on the waste hauling issues had some shifting in their seats. LA-32 (Northeast Los Angeles) board member Tom Williams, incensed, remarked to the person next to him, "This isn't a planning commission meeting, this isn't an energy commission meeting," before getting up and walking out of the chamber. He had submitted two comment cards.
Those who stayed pointed out that communication has been less than ideal between city and neighborhood councils on important subjects like water rate changes and the closure of swimming pools. Neighborhood councils meet only once a month, and often items are placed on the agenda with only a few days notice.
"We have to hold a meeting. We have the Brown Act. So the system is stacked against us," another neighborhood council board member said, adding that the relationship and the city and neighborhood councils is a "disaster."
Parks admitted during the meeting they needed to set up a "universal email" and update their website more often, as well as fix some financial issues various neighborhood councils have brought up.
Upset neighborhood council board members also pointed out that the budget for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which administers and facilitates the nieghborhood council system, was drastically cut recently. "The [DONE staff] can't get done what they've got to do. We even go in and help out. We work for nothing so they can get their work done."
Encino Neighborhood Council Board Member Glenn Bailey told Parks the city also has a responsibility to educate the councils about their opportunities to voice their communities' issues. The councils take positions on different matters all the time, but not many know they can submit "community impact statements" to the city as an official record of those stances, he said. The only place that talks about this process is a memo from 2005, he said. Friday's foray into the finer points of the waste hauling issue was prompted by one of these community impact statements.
Bailey added plenty of neighborhood councils do make efforts to outreach to the community, including sending out weekly email blasts about city and community issues. "You might want to inquire how many councils do this... get a better sense as chair of committee of the true amount of outreach being done citywide," he said.
However, one neighborhood council representative disagreed with her colleagues that keeping up with city issues has been that difficult, especially on the exclusive waste hauling issue. Their council support the city's plan to consolidate waste hauling contracts.
"Unfortunately we've been called cynical, stupid, and irrational for supporting this plan... our board was very aware and keeps quite up to date with the workings of the city of Los Angeles because that's how seriously we take it. We were notified. We're not ignorant of the process," said Anne Marie Johnson, board member of the Silverlake Neighborhood Council.
Photos by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou.
This article originally appeared in CivicLA.
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