By Jacqueline Primo
A presentation at a Pacific Palisades Community Council (PPCC) meeting last month regarding Neighborhood Councils (NCs) drew heated remarks and sparked curiosity among some residents about how NCs and CCs compare. (See “PPCC / Neighborhood Council” chart below for a comparison of some important factors.)
In Los Angeles, both NCs and CCs aim to provide each of the city’s communities with a voice at the City level.
The PPCC has served as the voice of the Palisades community since the council’s inception in 1973.
In the 1990s when the City of LA wanted to create a network of community organizations throughout the city, it looked to the PPCC as the model.
Despite its long history and reputation, the PPCC has come under fire recently.
PPCC Area 6 Representative Stuart Muller said the board is “silencing the public.” Other Palisades stakeholders have expressed dissatisfaction with the PPCC.
In an interview with the Post, one former PPCC board member who asked to remain anonymous, said, “The only reason you’re hearing about Neighborhood Councils now is because the PPCC is not serving its community in the way you would want a transparent, ethical and honest organization to behave.”
There have been past efforts to form a NC in the Palisades, but they have never come to fruition.
After being introduced in 1999, Neighborhood Councils have multiplied, with more than 90 NCs currently operating throughout the City.
By contrast, there are only three CCs belonging to the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC): Brentwood, Westwood and the Palisades.
As part of the City government, NCs receive official notification about planning and land use matters that affect the City.
In a 2013 motion, Councilmember Mike Bonin wrote that the Brentwood CC and PPCC “provide a vital service to the City and they should be provided the same level of notification offered to certified neighborhood councils on issues impacting the City, particularly with respect to planning and land use matters.”
“We have the ear of our Councilmember and the other City officials,” said Chris Spitz, PPCC president. “We are not prevented from taking positions on issues and communicating our positions to City officials.”
One important difference between the two types of community organizations is that NCs are subject to the Brown Act while the PPCC is not.
The Brown Act aims for transparency between governing bodies and the public by, among other rules, requiring meetings (whether in person or serial) to be made public when a quorum of council members is present.
The purpose of the Brown Act is to avoid secrecy in government, according to Empower LA.
The PPCC has written its own bylaws that strive for transparency, although it is not mandated by the City to do so.
“To me it’s a bit strange to hear that there’s talk of taking the PPCC, which we regard in this community [of Westwood] as the gold standard of councils – seen citywide as the touchstone of community involvement – and turning it into a Neighborhood Council,” said Steve Sann, Chairman of the Westwood Community Council.
Westwood is the only neighborhood in LA with both a CC and a NC.
The Westwood NC was initially formed by “disgruntled” community members who gathered the 250 signatures required to form a NC, but when it came time for the community to elect the NC board members, many CC board members ran – and won, Sann said.
“Zero members of the [NC] formation committee serve on the board,” he added. “The Westwood Neighborhood Council and Westwood Community Council have almost overlapping boards. So literally almost a third of the NC board members also serve on the CC. Many people hold dual memberships. That’s what we’ve had to do [to ensure] that our community speaks with one voice,” Sann said.
“We operate very easily with the Westwood Community Council,” said Westwood Neighborhood Council president Jerry Brown. “I’m on both.”
Options for the Palisades
In the Palisades, “disgruntled” stakeholders have the option of forming a NC.
If Palisadians who feel underrepresented by the PPCC want to explore forming a NC, “There are benefits of having multiple representation in the community, and pros and cons to each system, so you cover all of your bases,” said Grayce Liu, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment which helps organize and support NCs. “You would have two organizations working for the Palisades, and that’s awesome.”
However there can only be one certified NC or CC in a community, according to Bonin’s communications director David Graham-Caso.
Spitz sees problems if the Palisades community were to replace the PPCC with a NC.
“In my personal opinion, replacing the PPCC with a NC will result in loss of autonomy, strict control by the City over all aspects of the Council’s operations, and loss of the Council’s ability to interact with County and State agencies and officials on such matters as Coastal bluffs and canyons protection, Santa Monica mountains and recreational areas preservation and protection, and all issues involving PCH and our beaches,” Spitz said.
“Moreover, adding a separate NC to exist alongside the PPCC could lead to division and weakening of our ability to advocate to City officials a unified community position on important matters affecting all Palisadians,” Spitz added.
Forming a NC isn’t the only option for people who feel unfairly represented by the PPCC. They may also take their concerns straight to the existing council.
“My advice would be for the [PPCC] leadership to meet with the stakeholders who feel like they’re being left out. Get to the root of the problem and make adjustments in bylaws or operating procedures,” Liu said.
Some Palisades stakeholders, however, have told the Post they fear some form of retribution if they make their dissatisfaction known to the PPCC board.
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