DONE Watch: Is Hermon’s NC a Lift Ticket for a Slippery Slope?

WHO THOUGHT THIS ONE UP? – Nestled in the Aroyo Seco lies Hermon (pop. 3,500), a quaint art deco-infused hamlet that as of April 2017 has the unique distinction of being LA’s “tiniest” neighborhood, replete with its own certified neighborhood council.  The first birthed under the city’s new NC Sub-Division ordinance promulgated and shepherded by City Councilmember, Jose Huizar, who happens to represent Hermon in his fourteenth district; most likely a coincidence.  Not.

This has leaders of a lot of other NC’s a bit miffed, as successfully managing a neighborhood council with an approximate resident stakeholder base of 65,000 like Sherman Oaks is a different proposition compared to one with 3.5K.  Yet, all councils currently get an equal $42,000 in annual funding.

Is that “equitable?” 

It seems some dissenting chatter worked its way to the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC), who sanctioned a “working group” to look into “funding equity” across the now 97 certified councils.  The group meets under the auspices of BONC as a sub-committee, with all the requisite Brown Act requirements. 

At its most recent meeting, Jill Banks Barad, former Sherman Oaks NC President and current DWP Board Commissioner, put it succinctly saying in public comment, “Don’t’ confuse ‘equality’ with ‘equity.’  Equality means equal; the same.  Equity means fair.  Is this fair?”  

This isn’t Banks-Barad’s first BONC/DONE rodeo. 

After three meetings, the group of 24 reps culled from across the city’s NC’s, seems to agree it’s not fair, but what to do about it a much bigger question.  Some are advocating for a funding model or “algorithm” that factors in council size, while others have suggested putting limits on how much a council can spend on specific categories like Outreach, Operations, and Neighborhood Purpose Grants.  All of the proposals currently on the table see smaller councils taking a financial haircut based on their size, while the larger ones would see a budget boost. 

In other words, size matters. 

Some group members have expressed that ratcheting down an existing council’s budget is a bit draconian, but the elephant in the room is the Neighborhood Council Sub-Division ordinance itself, because the old rule of thumb that it takes 20,000 stakeholders to justify creating a council (with exceptions), has been sucked way down below sea level with Hermon (-82%) being the most glaring example.  There are a few others, but none in Hermon’s league, or more aptly, little league. 

But it’s the expected rush of NC sub-division applications–three new ones (one was kicked back?) have just been added to the docket–that’s sits in the eye of what many NC members see as a gathering storm.  Groups who want to splinter from their existing NC’s for whatever reason are financially incentivized to do so.  The ordinance, by DONE General Manager, Grayce Liu’s own admission, incorporates a “checklist” paradigm which ultimately sends subdivisions to an election purely on DONE’s say-so.  That’s a problem as many group members have expressed a need to disincentivise any new sub-divisions by limiting the amount of money a new NC would see, making spin offs a lot less attractive. 

The working group is a mixture of NC “old hands” with a lot of experience under their belts as well as some energized new blood like Panorama City’s Treasurer, John DiGregorio and Mid City West’s Emily Kantrim.  Adding a bit of pragmatism to the discussion is Los Feliz’s Mark Mauceri, a longtime boardmember who made it clear that without a team of “mathletes” getting an accurate count of stakeholders for any council is futile exercise, based on the current “vague” stakeholder definition.  But insider wisdom says Mauceri is waiting for his I-Told-You-So Moment on the whole idea of NC sub-divisions, because he did, right here on Citywatch, almost three years ago when Huizar, Wesson, and Liu were trying to “bake” a NC subdivision plan that has now raised hackles wherever it has, or is about to be implemented. 

No one likes NC political cover like Grayce Liu saying, “We consulted with NC’s before making this decision.”   Well, yeah sure, we suppose that’s true.  The working group is scheduled to meet next on Wednesday, March 15th at 6:30 PM at City Hall.  It’s their last scheduled meeting, so you may want to make your voice heard before any official “NC-sanctioned” recommendations are made. 

It’s also the Ides of March.   

Just sayin’.

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