Tuesday, October 9, 2001
Three Groups File for Neighborhood Council Status; More Expected Soon
By Robert Greene Staff Writer
Only three community panels reached the starting gate last week in their effort to become officially certified Los Angeles neighborhood councils, but officials took the surprisingly low turnout as good news.
“This shows they know it’s not a race,” Department of Neighborhood Empowerment spokeswoman Elizabeth Flynn said. “They are taking their time and filing when they are ready.”
Two groups from the harbor area filed early on Oct. 1, the day the city began its historic effort to empower communities by accepting applications for neighborhood councils. The Glassell Park Neighborhood Council, in the northeastern part of the city, filed late Friday.
More than 100 advisory councils may eventually seek certification and, with it, city funding and administrative support. Most are believed to be in the earliest stages of organizing, but at least a dozen were expected to file this fall.
The proposed Wilmington Neighborhood Council won the distinction of being the first, thanks to council organizer Toni O’Donnell, a city employee who made a point of being at the empowerment department’s Little Tokyo office first thing in the morning.
She brought with her not only her own group’s application, but also the paperwork for the adjacent Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. O’Donnell manages the city pool at Banning High School in Wilmington but lives within what would be the Coastal San Pedro group’s boundaries.
“I really am proud that Wilmington was first,” O’Donnell said, “because we have had had a reputation for not having a whole lot of involvement.”
That has changed over the last year and a half.
O’Donnell already had her finger on the pulse of the area through her involvement with a city Recreation and Parks Department advisory board and through Wilmington-area interagency meetings. Her enthusiasm for a local neighborhood council developed when she attended the empowerment department’s October 2000 public workshop at Harbor College.
Wilmington is within the area that would form a new harbor-area city under proposals now being studied by the same panel that is hammering out the details of San Fernando Valley secession. A number of the neighborhood council backers do not necessarily see a future as part of Los Angeles. But for most, the goals of an advisory council recognized by Los Angeles and independence from the city are the same-official attention and better services.
“People felt that until the secessionists maybe became successful this looked like the next best thing to get some services,” O’Donnell said.
Organizers began with a group of 18 at their first meeting. O’Donnell became the leader “just kind of by default,” she said.
From November through June, they worked on spreading their message around the community and seeking participation and buy-in from businesses, nonprofit groups, schools, religious institutions and residents. Then came monthly sessions with City Hall leaders, starting with newly elected Councilwoman Janice Hahn. Hahn, who represents the harbor communities, has put a priority on organizing and aiding councils
Finishing touches were put on the draft bylaws in the final week of September, meaning the group was ready to file by the opening bell.
O’Donnell said her experience as a city employee helped.
“I have a good insight into the way the city works,” she said. “One of the bad things is that inherently things are going to get bogged down. So I bring patience. Things take time.”
Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council spokesman Doug Epperhart downplayed the roadblocks to organizing his council. In an area with four or five active resident associations, he said, it was inevitable that leaders would “bump into each other” and start talking about forming a council.
After about a year, monthly meetings had begun to attract 50 or 60 people, drawn in part by notices published in the Daily Breeze.
“We shot for Oct. 1 and there we were,” Epperhart said. “It actually was pretty simple, to tell you the truth.”
It helped that Epperhart runs a desktop publishing company and knew the ins and outs of posting a web site, circulating a newsletter and getting together a useful mailing list. He said his best tool was an e-mail list.
Harbor-area resident Pat Herrera Duran, a member of the city’s Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, provided assistance, Epperhart said, but otherwise there was fairly little from the new Department of Neighborhood Empowerment or other city agencies.
“In some ways it was nice that DONE wasn’t involved,” he said. “We could move forward without them. They would never have any answers, so we took that as a license to run.”
Of more use was the Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, a group that organized outside the official city framework. The alliance posted the text of the city application on its website and Epperhart downloaded it, copied it, turned it into an application, made sure it was completed and gave it to his friend, O’Donnell, to take downtown with her.
“I’m sure there will be questions” about the application, Epperhart said. But he also predicted his group would be among the first to be certified, toward the end of the year.
Thirty miles north of the harbor, organizers for the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council finalized their application and submitted it at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
The group, led by a dynamic core of volunteers, set out nearly two years ago to forge a community identity for an area that historically has had little in the way of communication or cooperation between businesses and apartment dwellers in the valleys just east of Glendale and the homeowners in the nearby hills.
Set in motion by the three-decade-old Glassell Park Improvement Association, the organizing group launched three major outreach efforts—-one targeting business, one directed at schools and one aimed squarely at residents.
Council co-chair Mitch O’Farrell said efforts really gelled in January.
“We have been working very hard on this,” O’Farrell said. “We have reached a wide variety of people in the area, there is a lot of excitement, and we are looking forward to getting certified.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company