When the first handful of us sat down to begin creating neighborhood councils, we often discussed what the future might hold for L.A.’s experiment in grass-roots democracy. One thing we all agreed on was that the existing power structure, especially bureaucrats, would quickly move to impose rules, regulations and mandates to make us more like them. As one council advocate said, “It’s about sanding the rough edges; smoothing us out so we don’t scratch them.” The commissioners who added councils to the city charter said that our job was to provide a counterweight to the legion of lobbyists in city hall. Our mission was to speak for the people who pay for government and have to live with the consequences of decisions made downtown. To do that, councils would have to be true grass-roots groups, close to the people they serve and able to operate outside the bureaucratic box. Nice words, but human nature being what it is, those with power don’t want to share. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat KingsHere comes the sandpaper. A Neighborhood Council Review Commission was appointed to look at the system and recommend improvements. It suggested the city clerk should take over council elections since so much volunteer time and energy was spent on them. Elections also seemed to be the most contentious and high-profile problem for councils and Department of Neighborhood Empowerment staff. City Clerk Frank Martinez laid down two conditions before agreeing to take on the job. The first was that his office would only conduct neighborhood council elections in the years when there was no general municipal election. The second was that he be given funds and staff to do the job. The first condition means councils could only have elections every two years. All of the councils in San Pedro hold elections every year. Central and Northwest San Pedro board members have two-year terms. Northwest elects half its board each year. Central elects 12 at-large members in one year and the five officers the next. All Coastal board members are up for election annually. The most immediate problem is that council elections after June 30, 2008, would be postponed until 2010. San Pedro council members whose terms expire after that date will remain in office until the city clerk gets around to our elections. It’s a good thing we all love this job so much. The cost to taxpayers for Martinez’s second condition is five new city employees and about $800,000 per year. So how bad is this problem that requires such an obtrusive and expensive fix? I asked our local DONE staffer how many of the seven councils in the harbor region have election troubles. Her response: only one had any kind of problem and that’s been taken care of. In other words, none. Asking the same question of other department staff and current council election administrators yields the answer that “about four or five” councils (out of 90 in the city) have major problems. The review commission recommended that councils be given the option to conduct their own elections. But when the city council’s education and neighborhoods committee (Richard Alarcon, Dennis Zine, and Janice Hahn) considered the matter in late November, they quickly voted that councils be forced to accept the city’s electoral help whether they want it or not. Really, it’s for our own good. The politicians are just trying to help. You believe that, don’t you? Maybe not. The Northwest San Pedro council has gone on record opposing the city takeover of council elections. The Coastal council will be considering the matter at its December meeting. I’m guessing they might not be too enthused about it either. If the city assumes complete control over neighborhood council elections, we take one more step back down the road to “big brother” management. Like the savvy autocrats they are, the mayor and city council embrace democracy – sometimes to the point of smothering it. Doug Epperhart is a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council board. He writes a biweekly column for More San Pedro. He can be reached at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!