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Sep 2008
L.A. neighborhood councils may see gains

By Rick Orlov, Staff Writer

Neighborhood councils got another step closer Tuesday to being able to put specific items like fixing potholes directly on City Council agendas rather than having to convince a council member to put it on for them.

After months of study, the City Council's Education and Neighborhoods Committee recommended that the City Council permit the neighborhood councils to place agenda items directly before the City Council without having to fill out conflict-of-interest statements.

The neighborhood councils complained the requirement to fill out those lengthy statements would bog down the process, and the Education and Neighborhoods Committee agreed.

The full City Council must vote whether to accept the committee's recommendation.

Councilman Greig Smith said he would fight the plan, saying neighborhood councils should be required to fill out conflict-of-interest statements or it could open up the panels to undue influence by individuals or groups trying to push their own issues.

"I think we need to have some sort of ethics form for the neighborhood councils," Smith said. "We have heard of instances where there was a potential conflict."

The neighborhood councils have sought the ability to have the full City Council consider issues of importance to them without having to rely on a City Council member introducing a specific proposal. Issues could range from local improvements to major policy issues.

Under the proposal, which would be a six-month pilot program, any neighborhood council board would be able to place an agenda item - or open a council file - by voting on it and then filing a submission sheet to the City Council. After that, it would be assigned to a City Council committee for consideration.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she supported the plan to give neighborhood councils more freedom to put issues before the City Council. "I have felt all along that the neighborhood councils, who are volunteers, should have the right to open council files without going through all these requirements," Hahn said.

Leonard Shaffer of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council said he had surveyed various other groups and they were all opposed to signing conflict-of-interest forms.

"The feedback I have gotten is that people will vote with their feet and leave rather than fill out these forms," he said. "A lot of people said they wouldn't have got involved if they knew they had to fill out these forms."

Also Tuesday, the neighborhood and education committee said neighborhood councils should have the same right as individuals and homeowners associations to file appeals on land-use decisions. Jill Banks Barad, president of the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, said she was pleased by both decisions.

"This shows that the council is willing to treat neighborhood councils in a respectful and responsible way," she said.

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