Neighborhood Councils are on the move! The winners of the 2014 EmpowerLA Awards were announced at the August 18th board meeting of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. The vote for the winners of the EmpowerLA Awards 2014 was the culmination of stiff competition to name Neighborhood Councils of the Year. A total of 38 nominations were received for projects that exemplified the mission of Neighborhood Councils to engage local stakeholders with government and make government more accountable and responsive to the needs of their communities. In evaluating the submissions, we particularly focused on those initiatives that reflect the highest ideals of inclusiveness, non-discrimination, transparency, and creativity in program activities. The Selection Committee members of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners consisted of Board President, Karen Mack, Commissioner Leonard Shaffer, and myself. As a newbie on the board and to the selection process, I was particularly impressed with the array of activities that Neighborhood Councils have undertaken and the dedication of NC board members. I must add that equally impressive is the dedication of the staff at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment in working with Neighborhood Councils to enhance their capabilities. A special shout out to Joe Hari and Stephen Box who worked very hard in supporting the selection process including creating the summary of the 38 nominations. It has been an extremely positive experience to discuss the wonderful work of Neighborhood Council nominees and finally decide on the seven very worthy winners. Selecting the winners was quite a deliberative process because of the diversity of our Neighborhood Councils. However, after lively discussion, we think we have come up with the most deserving entrants. The WINNERS ARE:
NORTH VALLEY: Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council
SOUTH VALLEY: Valley Village Neighborhood Council
EAST L.A.: Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council
CENTRAL: Los Feliz Neighborhood Council
WEST L.A.: Venice Neighborhood Council
SOUTH L.A.: Empowerment Congress West
HARBOR AREA: Harbor City Neighborhood Council
Our hope with these awards is to celebrate Neighborhood Councils, furthering positive perceptions of their work, providing a platform for sharing best practices and encouraging high standards as they work to engage community members and work with the City to address local needs.
Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council is a prime example of creating a community project that involved every aspect of the neighborhood represented. This council created the powerful Neighborhood Pride Day that was a day of rehabilitating homes needing renovations and improvements. The council engaged the city through Neighborhood Housing Services to rehabilitate 3 homes; then the board assessed other homes requesting help and through volunteers of neighbors eleven more homes were improved. The business community was approached to supply goods and services and food for volunteers. This project took vision, hard work, complete cooperation of board members, and a lot of flexibility and determination. A job well done!!
Valley Village Neighborhood Council emphasized an important aspect of their community, a need to have a strong business center and to grow business support for the Neighborhood Council. This is an aspect that many Neighborhood Councils could view as a best practices project. The council initiated a program entitled “Light Up Valley Village.” They first recruited 50 businesses that grew to 99 where these establishments would provide special holiday lighting, open the doors of their businesses, providing coupons, snacks, music, and where citizens could stroll the shopping districts in the evening. Why was this project important? Valley Village NC identified 300 known businesses in the immediate area and a strong retail sector all of which can provide a strong economic base for the community.
Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council is considered the turn-around Neighborhood Council of the year. They have moved forward from low-turn out meetings to standing room only at their regularly scheduled meetings. Outreach has become a prime concern of Arroyo Seco NC. Their council has expanded its participation in community events; has directly hosted their own special events; has actively grown their database of citizen contacts; established regular email blasts; and created a newsletter. It is great to see this neighborhood grow and enhance their capabilities.
Los Feliz Neighborhood Council is being recognized for its fabulously newly designed website. Their creativity and thoroughness in including important city and Neighborhood Council business is admirable and is of course a “Best Practices” leader in website design. The new website has an updated calendar of local events and an array community service programs to peruse. An important addition has been the “Survey of the Month” where citizens have the opportunity to voice their opinion on a variety of subjects. This survey interaction with citizens is an important way for citizens to voice concerns and keep in contact with the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council. This website is a job well done.
Venice Neighborhood Council has worked hard to become an integral part of the Venice community. Their election outreach is phenomenal and the time spent on recruiting candidates for NC office is extraordinary – the theory being that high recruitment of candidates means increased election turn-out and participation of citizens supporting favorite candidates. Venice NC hosts a yearly Community Bar-b-que; the Great Venice Toy Drive; and invite an array of elected officials to their high profile meetings. This council also has extremely active committees and ad-hoc committees on housing, transportation, the Arts, environment, public safety and Ocean Front Walk. Venice is a Best Practices example of a Neighborhood Council integrated completely into the community.
Empowerment Congress West used the Neighborhood Council election season to orchestrate an all out campaign to reach stakeholders and recruit new board members in the process. Recruitment was done at special events and council meetings. Then the most important strategy was to hold elections in conjunction with the local very popular Farmers Market. This resulted in a 100% increase in voter turnout. This Neighborhood Council plan for elections could be considered for action in other Neighborhood Council areas where there are farmers markets, large shopping centers, or activities created in conjunction with elections.
Harbor City Neighborhood Council is a great example of a Neighborhood Council bringing citizens together to address an important public policy issue regarding public safety. This Neighborhood Council worked with their state senator and assembly representatives, their city council representative, and the State Department of Transportation (Cal-Trans) to arrange funding to build a safety fence along Western Avenue (state highway) to prevent Narbonne High School students from jaywalking across this very dangerous portion of the street. Harbor City Neighborhood Council civically engaged and brought together citizens, students, parents, school staff and politicians to accomplish this task. This council is a good example of an organization that researched a problem, engaged all aspects of the community that could influence the decision-making process, and carried out a plan of action that would help fund this important public safety project.
By Joy Atkinson, Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, Outreach Committee Chair