What is a Neighborhood Council?
Neighborhood councils are a group of representatives who volunteer to serve as advisors to the city of Los Angeles on issues of concern to the neighborhood.
Their purpose is “to promote more citizen participation in government and make government responsible to local needs.”1
What is the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council?
The Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council (HSDNC) is the neighborhood council that represents the Hollywood Studio District of Los Angeles.
The Hollywood Studio District is the area south of Hollywood Blvd, east of El Centro Ave, North of Melrose, and west of Western Avenue or the Hollywood freeway.
More information about the HSDNC can be found on their website.
What is this document?
This document is my personal opinion on how best to operate the HSDNC, based on my experience as a board member, committee chair, and board chair, as well as my best understanding of the laws, rules, and regulations governing neighborhood councils and the guidance offered by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and other city staff.
Some of the things in this document will be specific to the HSDNC, but I anticipate that much of it will useful to other neighborhood councils in Los Angeles and maybe even to other small governmental or other deliberative bodies.
This is a living document, intended to be updated as things and my understanding of them change. If you would like to recommend any amendments, updates, or corrections please feel free to email me — or better yet, open a pull request.
What this document is not
This document does not represent the policy, procedures, rules, or opinion of the HSDNC, DONE, the City of Los Angeles, or any other organization.
This document is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I am not your lawyer. If you need a lawyer I believe I am required to advise you find one licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. If your neighborhood council needs legal advice the city attorney’s office has an entire division dedicated to providing that.
So you want the HSDNC to…
The best way to get the HSDNC to accomplish anything is to present it to the board as a well-researched and complete action that the board can vote to approve.
Ideally, the action would be recommended by a committee but if there is no committee with relevant jurisdiction, or there is no time for the committee to consider the item you can send it directly to the vice chair and the executive committee will decide whether to include it on the board agenda.
Take a stance
The HSDNC can take a position on any item whatsoever, with very few exceptions.
The best way to format a statement of the council’s stance is as a resolution. A resolution is a single statement consisting of a series of “whereas” clauses describing the background and reasoning, and one or more “resolved” clauses stating the position.
Here is an example resolution:
WHEREAS it is valuable to have the background, reasoning, and explanation of an action together in one statement; and
WHEREAS the format of resolutions make it easy to include and distinguish the background, reasoning, and explanation from the decision of the body; and
WHEREAS the resolution format is standardized and familiar to all government officials; therefore be it
RESOLVED that this writer recommends positions adopted by the HSDNC be written as resolutions.
Communicate their stance to other parts of city government
The HSDNC is an advisory board to they city and as such can communicate their positions to other parts of the city government.
The best way to communicate the HSDNC’s position to the city council is via a Community Impact Statement (CIS). The community impact statement process was created as a way for neighborhood councils to express their support, opposition, or suggestions about any matter pending before the city council, city council committees, or city commission.
If a community impact statement is submitted in time, the NC’s position will be printed on the agenda. The full statement becomes part of the council file.
At meetings where the item appears on the agenda, if the NC has filed a CIS, a representative from the board will be given five minutes to speak about the board stance on the matter. Speakers are usually given one to two minutes for their comments.
The best way to format a CIS is as a resolution like any other position the board takes. However, it is very important with a CIS to be specific about the relevant council file; the board stance (for, against, for if amended, against if amended, no position, neutral position), and the agency the statement is directed to (the city council, or a city commission).
Here is an example resolution to submit a CIS:
WHEREAS the Congress of Neighborhood is very effective at promoting citizen participation in government; and
WHEREAS the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment plans to hold the Congress of Neighborhoods in the 4th floor media room, rotunda, Spring St. forecourt, and south lawn in city hall on September 9th, 2017 from 6 am to 5 pm; therefore be it
RESOLVED that the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council is for Council File 13-0378-S3, authorizing the use of the 4th floor media room, rotunda, Spring St. forecourt, and south lawn in city hall on September 9th, 2017 from 6 am to 5 pm.
Communicate their stance outside the city government
The HSDNC cannot communicate their position to governments or governmental agencies outside the city. The HSDNC, like all neighborhood councils, is part of the government of the City of Los Angeles and within the City of Los Angeles only the Mayor and the City Council have power over intergovernmental relations.
Spend money on NC operations
Each neighborhood council is given an annual budget currently amounting to $47,000 per fiscal year. This money can be used for operations, outreach, community improvement projects, and conducting NC elections.
Give money to an organization to create a benefit in the community
A portion of the NC’s budget can be used to provide grants to public schools or 501(c)(3)’s to support a public purpose and benefit the public-at-large.
If you wish to apply for an Neighborhood Purpose Grant (NPG), the application is available on the city clerk’s website.
Send the completed application, along with all supporting documentation to the chair and treasurer. They will bring it to the executive committee which will decide whether to put it on the board agenda.
How to call meeting
Regular meetings should be at the date and time set by the standing meeting calendar. For the HSDNC board this is every second Monday at 6:30 pm.
Special meetings can be called when necessary but should be avoided. It is very difficult to find a date and time that all the board or committee members are available. Also, other stakeholders, who are familiar with the standing meeting calendar, are less likely to be aware of a special meeting.
Meetings must be held within the boundaries of the NC.2
Meeting locations must be open to the public.3
Meeting locations must be ADA compliant.3
The HSDNC has twenty board members and routinely sees 20 members of the public at board meetings so board meeting locations should accommodate at least 50 people.
Committees are typically much smaller and the meeting are less well-attended so their venues can be smaller.
Setting the agenda
The board agenda is set by the executive committee.4
To help ensure the best possible agenda and make the executive committee meeting efficient, the chair should prepare a proposed agenda. The executive committee can review each item individually to amend or remove as they wish. Afterwards, the committee can decide to add any agenda items that were not on the chair’s proposed agenda. And finally they can discuss changing the order of agenda items as they see fit.
The easiest way to create an agenda is to start with a duplicate of the previous month’s agenda. Change the date on the first page and in the footer, remove the items that don’t happen every month, and update the dates for the minutes and MER that need to be approved.
The chair should create a proposed agenda for the next meeting as soon as the current agenda is finalized. This makes it easy to add items as soon as they are brought to the chair’s attention instead of trying to gather them all together immediately before the executive committee meeting.
It is best to err on the side of including an item on the chair’s proposed agenda even if there are good reasons for it not to be on the board agenda. It is easy to remove an item from the proposed agenda. It is difficult to remember to discuss an item that is not on the proposed agenda.
Committee agendas are set by the committee chair.
Agenda items should contain enough detail to provide sufficient notice to a reasonable person about the action the board is contemplating. If the board is taking a position or submitting a community impact statement, the entire resolution should be included.
Posting the agenda
All HSDNC agendas need to be posted via the city’s Early Notification System (ENS), physically at the Lemon Grove park, and on the HSDNC website.
To post the agenda via ENS send the agenda as a PDF to NC support with the date and title of the meeting in the subject.
To post the agenda at Lemon Grove park you can go there yourself, or email the recreation coordinator and ask them to post it for you.
To post the agenda on the website add an event to the meetings calendar on NationBuilder and upload the agenda to it as a PDF.
Agendas should also be sent to the HSDNC mailing list on NationBuilder. Board agendas should be sent to all supporters. Committee agendas should be sent to people who are interested in that committee.
During the board meeting, board members are going to need the agenda, the minutes of the previous meeting, the previous month’s MER, and possibly other materials. Distributing these items individually is time-consuming and disruptive.
Meetings go smoother if every board member is given a packet of the materials they need before the meeting begins. For ease of use, put the agenda first, and the rest of the materials in the order they will be needed.