When LA’s Neighborhood Council system was formed in 1999, it was part of a larger charter reform effort to prevent the San Fernando Valley from seceding from the City. Each neighborhood council was given $50,000/year from the city and became the “closest form of government to the people,” advising city council members on what specific neighborhoods in Los Angeles wanted and needed.
In the Great Recession of 2008, the Los Angeles City Council cut neighborhood council budgets by 20%, to $40,000 a year. However, during the proceeding boom years, the city never restored neighborhood council budgets to their original $50,000 (in 1999 dollars).
Last year, in the grip of COVID budget cuts, LA again cut neighborhood council budgets by 20%, to $32,000/year. And just like what happened a decade ago, despite an improving fiscal situation, the city is not planning to restore the pre-pandemic budget of $40,000/year.
I am the vice chair of Mid City West Community Council (but writing this as a private citizen!), one of LA’s 99 neighborhood councils. Pre-pandemic, we spent $18,000 just on rent, for our office and public meeting space. I hope the City allows neighborhood councils to meet via Zoom forever — it’s much better to get more people to participate, it’s more convenient for board members and speakers, and we’d save on rent. But if we go back to in person meetings, more than 50% of my neighborhood council’s budget will be taken up by rent alone. We also have a very competitive community purpose grant program that is always over subscribed and would further limit our ability to invest in our community.
If LA is serious about empowering its “closest form of government to the people” then it needs to back that up with appropriate funding. $50,000 in 1999 dollars is $80,000 today. LA should restore neighborhood council budgets to at least $50,000/year, and index them for inflation going forward.