The City of LA Department of Neighborhood Empowerment or EmpowerLA puts the power back in the hands of the community. It is the “primary support agency” for the neighborhood council system. They are calling on every Angeleno to strengthen the voice of the community; Neighborhood Council is the closest form of government to the people.
Joy Atkinson is Los Angeles City Commissioner for South L.A. She, along with the other city commissioners, monitor the Neighborhood Council operations and policies. Atkinson was appointed by Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti within the first term. She has served as a commissioner in a number of jurisdictions, after being a part of Neighborhood Council when the branch became official in the city around the late 1999.
“All commissioners are appointed the mayor—so, I actually got appointed to the board of Neighborhood Commissioners by Mayor Garcetti right after he entered his first term, as mayor. I had been on other city commissions under other mayors—so I had some experience with the Commission Process.” Atkinson said.
Mayor Garcetti named Atkinson to the neighborhood council commission. Atkinson explained how she was part of the start of Neighborhood Council. She stated, “When the neighborhood council’s whole process came into existence in 1999, early 2000, I was on a neighborhood Council committee.” She was on neighborhood council in the Country Club Park area of Los Angeles for a number of years.
Atkinson added that she was also involved in the prototype of the neighborhood council planted by Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, after he started a community organization under his administration. The practice spread throughout Los Angeles and became a charter of its own.
EmpowerLA is one of the youngest branches in the City of Los Angeles; it was created after a community vote supported a city charter change in 1999. The mission is to “promote civic engagement and make government more responsive to local needs, by supporting Neighborhood Council throughout Los Angeles.”
Atkinson described her extensive experience as a “working knowledge” of the neighborhood council process, which supported the mayor’s decision to appoint Atkinson. She explained the general bylaws associated with neighborhood council that navigates individual committees that respond to the needs of the community.
The commissioner stated, “For instance, a couple of neighborhood councils have set up police committees, or they would set up recreation committees, and then they would interface with those departments at the City.”
Atkinson shared at that point, the specified committee would be considered for a budget to fund their projects; such as improvements for local parks and recreational facilities.
Concerns of the people living within this community are amplified through neighborhood council. She explained, “Some folks were concerned about the police—the pros and cons, and so every neighborhood council was able to initiate and implement having a liaison for the police department. So, the city watches police officers come to neighborhood council meetings monthly to talk about what’s going on in the community.”
The last election for neighborhood council was held Tuesday, May 11. Board members of the council include volunteers and elected public officials; most members serve two-year terms with some exceptions of certain members serving four years.
Participation in voting is open to those who “work, live, or own property within the community boundary, “Community interest stakeholders,” are able to weigh in on the ballot as well; that includes church members, students, and local service organizations. Positions open for election include an at-large representative and youth representative.
Atkinson elaborated on the importance of community participation, stating, “I always thought about the beauty of neighborhood council movement—because Los Angeles is such a large area—how do you break it down so that citizens really feel like they have a say in their government, and I think the neighborhood council movement is just that vehicle.”
The commissioner continued to explain the significance of neighborhood council, stating, “There’s a saying that says, ‘you bloom where you are planted.’ So, if you are planted in a neighborhood, in a community, and you want to see improvements—you can work through a local neighborhood council and get some of those ideas across.”
Mayor Garcetti reflected on the significance of community involvement and stated, “There’s no better way for Angelenos to make an impact in their community and to help move our city forward. In neighborhoods across our great city, these councils bring City Hall right to your doorstep. They carry your voices directly to the decision makers in government.”
The mayor continued, “No one knows an area’s needs, priorities, and challenges, better than somebody who’s living on the block that needs the help. That’s why neighborhood council members make powerful advocates; they secure critical resources, they beautify shared public spaces, and they build a city, block-by-block, to work for everyone.”
Government decisions start at the community level, neighborhood council is the impetus to push the needle forward in improvement of daily life within the city. Breaking down the chain of command, the influence begins intimately within the neighborhood Council, moving on to local, City, County, and State, and with fierce strength, the influence that started on the sidewalks of the community goes through a national inference on Capitol Hill.
Atkinson reflected on the power of change in the community, stating, “I think one of the most important things on why I’m passionate about outreach and about community involvement—it’s because of that possibility.”
The commissioner stated that complaining about the issue is not enough; one has to get involved. Atkinson stated, “Do not complain if you are not going to be involved. The best way to be involved—to start being involved, is to go to your local neighborhood council.
There are 99 Neighborhood Councils spread throughout Los Angeles. EmpowerLA provides workshops and training to strengthen the influence in the City Office. Neighborhood Council provides a space for highly impacted communities to be heard and acknowledged in government and beyond. To find out more, go to the official EmpowerLA website.