A small residential community with deep roots in Northeast Los Angeles has begun efforts to form their own neighborhood council, and separate from the group that currently represents them and a large swath of the communities that surround them.
If the group successfully receives certification, it would represent the smallest pool of stakeholders in the City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Council system.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Residentes Organizan Esfuerzos para el Concejo Vecinal Más Pequeño de Los Ángeles 
On Jan. 12, about 30 people attended a meeting of the Hermon Neighborhood Council Formation Committee. With roughly 3,500 residents, Hermon is one of five communities — Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mt. Washington and Sycamore Grove— under the umbrella of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC). But after a decade in the ASNC, a number of residents say “it’s time” to form their own neighborhood council to more fully empower their community.
Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils are local groups of stakeholders tasked with advising the city council on local issues. They are supervised by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and receive city funds to use on outreach aimed at bringing the local community closer to city hall, and on special local projects or programs in need of financial support.
Backers of the change began organizing late last year, and say they have already ironed out some of the technical aspects of their neighborhood council application.
At last week’s meeting, the group reviewed proposed bylaws modeled after those of the ASNC, which Hermon resident Joseph Riser said took over a year to create. “In order to make this as easy as we possibly could, I took the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood bylaws and I just removed everything that wasn’t about us … the reason for that is the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment can’t say these are not legitimate bylaws because they’re already the bylaws of the neighborhood council we’re [currently] represented by,” he said.
Riser added the council’s boundaries would be similar to the Hermon Local Issues Committee boundaries, and he suggested lowering the number of board members to eight: three regional; three at large members to represent community organizations (environment, health and safety, and history culture & the arts); one youth and one special representatives. He also proposed reducing the voting age to 16, since Los Angeles International Charter High School is in Hermon.
Five Hermon residents are currently on the ASNC board, and could potentially become the new Hermon NC’s interim board if they are certified. They could then appoint people to fill the remaining spots until the next citywide election in 2013, Riser said.
The Hermon group has already informed DONE of their intent to break away from Arroyo Seco and form a new neighborhood council. Earlier this month they received a letter from DONE General Manager Bonghwan Kim, in which he noted a neighborhood council already represents them. He wrote that the city does not have a policy for creating new councils out of existing ones, and added that they do not meet the minimum population size criteria of 20,000 stakeholders.
“Currently, based on information provided by the Bureau of Engineering, the area you have identified for possible certification contains a total population size of 6,534,” Kim wrote. He suggested they work with the ASNC to “insure that your interests for your community are being represented.”
Riser noted, however, that DONE has certified 11 other neighborhood councils that do not meet the population criteria. They include Elysian Valley Riverside NC (7,323 stakeholders), Greater Cypress Park NC (10,833 stakeholders), and Atwater Village (14,931 stakeholders).
He also said Hermon meets requirements for an exemption to the rule: it is separated from adjacent communities by significant geographic features, namely Debs Park and the Arroyo Seco Parkway; it has also been identified by name within an adopted Community Plan (the Northeast Plan), and the area represents a historic, identifiable neighborhood or community that is serviced by City service providers—Hermon will celebrate it’s centennial this year, and has parks and public schools, Riser said.
“We’re not breaking a mold, we just have to convince them that we are worthy of these exemptions,” Riser explained.
Hermon residents recognize some larger neighborhood councils could oppose them solely on the basis of funding, but “right now that’s the least of our problems,” Riser said.
In an email to EGP, Kim said neighborhood councils currently receive $40,500 a year from the city to assist them with administration, outreach, community improvements, and grants to schools and non-profits.
ASNC Hermon Local Issues Committee member Darlene Martinez says Hermon is a very active community, and has been criticized by other ASNC members for receiving a lot of the council’s funding, even though the other areas could not decide how to spend the funds that don’t roll over from year to year.
The issue came to a head over funds spent on Hermon’s Shakeout Earthquake Drill last October, which prompted allegations by some ASNC members that the expenditure was never approved. Formation committee co-chair Wendy Riser disputes those claims, and says they now realize that we can “do more if we become our own neighborhood council. It’ll facilitate getting things done, we’ll be able to be more direct and get things done right away,” she said.
Hermon has always shared it’s resources and that won’t change if Hermon becomes it’s own neighborhood council, said committee co-chair and Hermon Community Church pastor, Manny Martinez.
This is not about the money, says Joseph Riser. “A community that is as active as we are should be able to put our voice straightforward to the city without that filter of people who don’t understand [our community],” he said.
But it’s uncertain if DONE will give the group a chance to make their case. In his email to EGP, Kim said, “We have not and do not anticipate addressing this issue.
“ There are a number of NCs with populations over 80,000. If we took up any issue of this type it would be for NCs with unusually large numbers of stakeholders,” he stated.
Undaunted, the Hermon NC Formation Committee will continue their drive to gain independence, which includes collecting about 400 signatures from local stakeholders — landlords, teachers, students, parents of students, any one who works there, and members of the church congregation — to show they have community support, and convincing the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners to accept their application and bylaws. They must also get the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council to agree to change its boundaries to exclude Hermon.
If things go their way, they hope to get their bylaws approved by March, and receive certification in June. The proposed bylaws and a detailed timeline are online at www.HermonLA.org.
The committee will meet again on Feb. 5.