What Are Neighborhood Councils?
LA’s 99 Neighborhood Councils together form the grassroots level of the Los Angeles City government. The system was created to connect LA’s diverse communities to City Hall, and was established in 1999 by an amendment to the City Charter. While Neighborhood Council board members are volunteers, they are public officials elected to office by the members of their community.
The Neighborhood Council system tailors LA’s municipal government to the City’s communities, ensuring that recognition and accommodation of these communities’ diversity is built into City governance.
As a result, each Council is unique. Though every Neighborhood Council is held to the local, state, and federal standards that other City officials and agencies must observe, each Council has its own board structure, with seats representing the particular type of stakeholders which that Council serves. For example, some Councils have seats for renters, while some have seats for equestrians. Others have seats that represent internal districts. Boards range in size from 7 to 35 members. Most board members serve two-year terms; a few Councils have four-year terms, staggered so that half the board is elected every two years.
Neighborhood Councils advocate on issues like homelessness, housing, land use, emergency preparedness, public safety, parks, transportation, and sustainability. They also provide local expertise and a local voice on the delivery of City services to their communities.
Each Council holds monthly meetings of their full board, in addition to monthly Committee meetings with a more targeted focus on key issues or projects, like public safety, transportation, homelessness, or land use. All meetings are open to the public.
Click the link to learn more about recent Neighborhood Council success stories at EmpowerLA.org/art-exhibit.
WHO CAN PARTICIPATE?
Another unique feature of LA’s Neighborhood Council system is its broad, inclusive definition of stakeholdership. Unlike other government officials, who are elected by residential stakeholders of the area they serve, Neighborhood Councils are open to participation by anyone who is part of the fabric of daily life in a community. This includes those who live, work, or own property or a business there. Also included are “community interest stakeholders,” who have some type of ongoing, substantial involvement within a Council’s boundaries, such as students of a local school, or the congregation of a local church.
Board members on neighborhood council boards receive advance notice of issues and projects that are important to their neighborhood so they can get a better understanding of the issues, discuss them, and make sure their voices are heard before City Council votes on important issues that impact our neighborhoods. Board members – and candidates, and voters – need not be US citizens or legal US residents to qualify. Participation is also open to the formerly incarcerated.
Neighborhood Councils represent neighborhoods with a minimum population of 20,000 people. The average population represented by a Neighborhood Council is 38,000 people. There are currently 95 Neighborhood Councils across Los Angeles with more in development. Councils must establish bylaws and go through the certification process with the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment before they can operate.
WHAT DO NCS DO & HOW ARE THEY FUNDED?
Since Neighborhood Councils hold their meetings in the communities they serve, they are an important avenue for public participation in the City of Los Angeles, and give the members of a community the chance to have input on decisions that affect their quality of life, and the services they receive from the City.
Neighborhood Councils play an advisory role in the Los Angeles municipal government. They gather, vet, debate, and come to a consensus on matters that impact City life and policy, and deliver their official stance on these issues in letters called “Community Impact Statements” (CIS), which are shared with City decision-makers, such as the Mayor, City Council, or City Departments such as City Planning. The Neighborhood Council may also attend meetings of these decision-making officials in person, to advocate for their board’s position on a matter. Neighborhood Councils members take action as a board, and not as individuals, so they do not take an official position without a majority vote first.
Neighborhood Councils receive public funds of about $42,000 each year to support their activities. Each member takes state-mandated training on the ethical management of public funds, and the funds must be allocated by board consensus. The funds may be used to create events and programs that respond to community needs, or spent to advocate for issues that the board cares about such as crime prevention, better roads and streets, safe spaces for children, help for the homeless, arts, or local economic development.
What is the department of neighborhood empowerment?
The City of Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is the support agency for LA’s Neighborhood Council system citywide. The Department is sometimes called “EmpowerLA” because of its stated mission to empower Angelenos through civic engagement and community advocacy, via the Neighborhood Council system and other outreach programs and initiatives.
Neighborhood Empowerment is not the only City department providing support for LA’s Neighborhood Councils, though we serve as the primary coordinator of these services. The Office of the City Attorney has a dedicated Neighborhood Council Advice Division that advises Councils and board members on legal issues, and the City Clerk is in charge of administering both Funding and Elections for the Neighborhood Council system. In addition, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners serves as the official oversight body for the Neighborhood Council system. Commissioners are drawn from different areas of the City and are appointed by the Mayor.