FIVE SMOOTH STONES: the Skid Row Neighborhood Council

Mom. Apple Pie. Skid Row Neighborhood Council. Three examples of wholesome Americana, except one doesn’t exist quite yet.

The Neighborhood Council system of Los Angeles is overseen by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). The system began in 1999 and currently there are 96 Neighborhood Councils.

The purpose of a Neighborhood Council is “volunteer boots on the ground” insight for City governmental affairs and services. Neighborhood Councils promote civic engagement on the neighborhood level. They have virtually no authority, but the potential for a great deal of influence.

Thirteen years ago, downtown Los Angeles (DTLA), in the beginning stages of “revitalizing” downtown, pursued creating a Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council that would include Skid Row just as Skid Row pursued creating a Skid Row Neighborhood Council. The climax of these efforts was a meeting with City Commissioners so both sides could argue their case and the Commissioners would decide.

A 133 page transcript of the hearing reads like the screenplay for David versus Goliath (except Goliath wins).

Goliath was the giant Philistene warrior, taunting Israel to send out her best warrior for a fight to the death. Israel was paralyzed by the taunts of Goliath. Then David, a young shepherd boy, declared he would fight Goliath.

David did not carry a sword as he walked towards Goliath. David had skill with a slingshot and so on his way he paused to pick up five rounded smooth stones. He threw one of the five smooth stones at Goliath’s forehead, knocking him out, then took Goliath’s own sword to chop off his head.

Over the course of the 133 pages, each side presents a compelling case, but comments by the Commissioners show momentum towards creating a Skid Row Neighborhood Council. Then on page 129 of the 133, the lawyer for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council effort, speaks:

(name removed) “The balkanization of downtown after the good faith effort of so many people over such a long time to simply be undone by the apparently, you know, ad hoc processes used by the commission undermines the entire effort, so I respectfully request that you not certify the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.”

Balkanization means one large country pitting two smaller countries against each other to control them both. It’s probably the ugliest accusation possible against the Commissioners as well as implying those supporting a Skid Row Neighborhood Council are nothing but political pawns in the hands of the City.

There are only four more pages until the meeting ends because it only took that long for the Commissioners to give him what he wanted, namely Skid Row.

Any objective observer for the past thirteen years would say the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council has done a great job helping developers revitalize DTLA. Only one problem: that is not their Mission Statement. Their Mission Statement all these years has been to help unify the different sections of DTLA.

Publications across the country have articles about downtown with titles like “The Coolest New Place In America”. Massive cranes building massive skyscrapers blanket downtown. But the streets of Skid Row are The Land That Time Forgot.

Large cities across America have established “best practices” on how some monies need to be set aside from large developments to help improve poor neighborhoods. Based on these best practices, of the many billions of dollars that have come into downtown, somewhere between fifty and one hundred million dollars over the past ten years should have come into Skid Row for street level improvements — the type of help you would expect from a Neighborhood Council. Should have come. Did not. Should have. This would not be innovative. This would be normal.

Going back to the Neighborhood Council system, one of the major systemic flaws has been no process where a new Council could be birthed out of an existing one. A few years ago City Council passed legislation asking DONE to create a process for that to happen.

For the past two years, Skid Row and the rest of downtown have witnessed a focused and determined Skid Row residential effort to create a Skid Row Neighborhood Council. At a City Hall meeting more than a year ago, four neighborhoods in Los Angeles wanted to form their own Neighborhood Council from an existing one.

It’s taken these few years for DONE, the City Council, and the City Attorney to create this “subdivision” process, but on August 12, the City Attorney released the language for a subdivision ordinance.

According to this language, which now needs to be approved by City Council, the Next Step is a stakeholder submits a subdivision petition with five stakeholders authorized to work with DONE on possible revisions. When the paperwork is finished, a 90 day period begins for an election to take place where all voting stakeholders in the current Neighborhood Council will decide if a new Neighborhood Council will be birthed out of it.

DLANC has officially taken a “neutral” position, but some elected Board Members with DLANC have already made it clear they are opposed to the creation of a Skid Row Neighborhood Council. On the Skid Row side, there is already talk of filing a lawsuit in order to get a Skid Row Neighborhood Council.

But first off is five stakeholder representatives. The five stakeholders authorized to represent the Skid Row subdivision petition to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment will be the Five Smooth Stones of Skid Row.

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