About a decade ago, the City of Los Angeles overhauled its charter. With this, a new creature sprang to life, the Neighborhood Council (NC). Currently, there are 88 of them, at least nominally.
The new entity is intended to provide people with a forum to address issues of local concern. This should come as no surprise since with a 15-member city council and some four million residents, LA electoral government can hardly claim to have an intimate representational relationship with those it serves.
Some of these councils are duds, while others are doing well. They seem to do best when there’s a hot issue of local concern. Representation on these councils is based on residence, business ownership, participation in civic entities, etc. Simply, you must be a stakeholder in the geographic area of a particular NC to vote for or get elected to it.
This being LA, there are, of course, significant areas of Armenian population and the attendant organizational/institutional presence. In particular, at this time, the Ferrahian School/Holy Martyrs’ Church complex has been having difficulties. In a very positive departure from our communities’ often demure and passive, though grumblingly dissatisfied, response, the West San Fernando Valley ANC got everyone organized to vote in the Encino Neighborhood Council (ENC) election scheduled for June 28.
They did a tremendous job turning out voters and elected their slate of four candidates (one being a write-in) overwhelmingly. The unofficial results (as of this writing) can be seen by going to: http://cityclerk.lacity.org/election/ncdocs/Summary%20of%20Semi%20Official%20Results-ENC.pdf.
This is the kind of electoral involvement and participation we need more of. To date, it has been limited to the heart of our ghetto, Glendale. It is very heartening to see this level of engagement spreading to an area that is semi-ghetto.
Some will argue that NCs, as a friend put it, “have no juice”. This may be true, technically. They have no authority to make obligatory decisions. Yet, some of them have been the scene of intense struggle over who gets elected, ranging even to electoral shenanigans. I heard one story of an NC election held in a high school. Many of the students participated too, an encouraging sign given the tradition of non-voting among youth. They said their principal urged them to participate. It turned out the principal was a candidate; There have been other questionable election practices too, enough so that this year, the City Clerk’s Elections Division was brought in to run the elections. Previously, the NC elections had been run by the councils themselves, where theoretically, a candidate could also be one who is running the election. Can you spell c-o-n-f-l-i-c-t?
The fact of people’s interest, as borne out by these episodes, speaks to how important these councils serve as for a discussion. And, “juice” is determined by the people. Also, from the perspective of our community, these councils– and there are others covering areas with high Armenian populations– can serve as a proving ground. Through the NCs, we can vet those among us who aspire to other, traditional, electoral offices. If they take to the tasks and comport themselves well, they’ll have earned our community’s trust and support.
The quirky part of all this is my presence at the election. I’ve mentioned in other articles that, as an employee of the LA City Clerk, when elections are held, I often work in some capacity since the Elections Division always needs more manpower. Wanting to integrate my exercise with work (the ENC election was on a Saturday), I decided to ride my bike there. Accordingly, I looked at the options, and distance-wise, ENC was optimal. I made it my first choice, and got assigned to it. Only later did I discover that things were hot. On election day, I had to constantly tell people who asked me “who are we supposed to vote for”, that I could not answer such a question in view of my capacity as an election employee. While it was fun seeing people I know, it was a bit uncomfortable to be in that position. But, this, along with the huge turnout mentioned above, demonstrate just how willing people are to follow good leaders in pursuit of worthwhile community needs. One voter said to me, “Guh paveh! (Enough) We’ve supported others, let’s take care of our own”.
Sounds like a good guiding thought. But let’s make sure we’re putting our best people forward. Let’s do it!