04/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

LA's Neighborhood Councils -- The Best Bang for the City's Bucks

The City Council did not form the citywide Neighborhood Council (NC) System -- or the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment -- the voters did.

The Charter-mandated NC members are more than advisers to the individual City Councilmembers. They are extensions of the Councilmembers themselves into their respective districts and communities.

From Sylmar to San Pedro, from Woodland Hills to Westwood, from Del Rey to Downtown, from Boyle Heights to Bel-Air/Beverly Crest, from Hancock Park to Harbor Gateway, from Sunland-Tujunga to South LA, NCs are funding projects for youth and seniors, for the hungry and disabled, and for the cultural and performing arts.

NCs help City Councilmembers by providing an open forum to air constituent issues, by vetting zoning applications, and even screening liquor licenses. NCs are the eyes and ears on the streets for Councilmembers to help reduce crime, to prevent and paint over graffiti. NCs also perform valuable in-depth community outreach for each Councilmember whenever they request it.

Crime is down across the City of Los Angeles, in no small part because of the effectiveness of NC Neighborhood Watch and NC Public Safety activists who supplement the work of the Los Angeles Police Department. That's why LAPD Chief Beck and Assistant Chief Moore find NCs invaluable partners in their work to reduce crime and promote positive community involvement on the streets of Los Angeles. NCs have worked hard to protect children and neighborhoods from the ravages of gangs.

Without strong funding of the NCs, crime will go up. The choice is not NCs or cops, because the money that funds the extraordinary works of NCs in the communities is a virtual drop in the bucket for the City and constitutes its best possible use of funds.

Appropriate funding of NCs puts CERT boots and other volunteers on the ground within minutes at emergencies before fire and police personnel can arrive. NC members were the first-responders to help survivors at the Metrolink 111 crash in Chatsworth. They were the initial evacuators of burn and smoke victims at the deadly Sayre and Station Fires. They are the ones who are helping Los Angeles with citywide emergency preparedness before future catastrophic events strike.

Thousands of hours of service are provided each day by NC members at no salary, no pension, no compensation and no reimbursement of personal expenses.

The citywide structure of NCs is a complex, deep and rich one that reaches out to every community, every neighborhood and every street. The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment structure helps 90 Neighborhood Councils to function and it needs energy, life and dependable, adequate funding so the NC system itself can breathe and function.

NCs are not insensitive to the extraordinary financial crisis facing the City of Los Angeles. They want to be partners with the City. With that awareness, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend the following formulas for the City Council to consider:

1) An additional 10% cut in the annual Neighborhood Council funding program on top of the 10% cut taken already less than a year ago; 2) a 10% cut in the NC rollover monies in 2010; 3) a sweep of any unused, unencumbered rollover funds in the following fiscal year; and, 4) a 10% cut in staff for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment above and beyond the deep staff and funding cuts the Department has already taken over the last 18 months.

We know that the City Councilmembers appreciate the value of the Neighborhood Council system. Not only are NCs the heart, soul and conscience of democracy itself at the grassroots level, they are the best bang for the buck for the City of Los Angeles.