Mayor Richard Riordan on Monday named seven Angelenos, including three from the Valley, to a new board that will take on one of the city's toughest problems: getting residents involved in government.
The Board of Neighborhood Empowerment, which was established by one of the Los Angeles City Charter reforms approved by voters June 8, will govern a new city department that will oversee a network of neighborhood councils throughout Los Angeles.
Valley residents named to the board are Carrie Castro Armour, a high school teacher who lives in Sylmar; Keith Weaver, a Sherman Oaks resident and Kaiser Permanente executive, and Lee Kanon Alpert, a Northridge lawyer who is also president of the city Building and Safety Commission.
The board and department face the daunting task of reversing decades of dwindling citizen involvement in Los Angeles government. Voter participation in the city is routinely abysmal--only about a fifth of registered voters took part in the June election, for instance.
Before the sparsely attended City Hall news conference introducing the board members, including three San Fernando Valley residents, Riordan quipped: "There were three times as many cameras when I was feeding a baby chimp [at the Los Angeles Zoo]."
The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment will create a system of neighborhood-based advisory councils in Los Angeles. The number of councils could range from 35 to 100, under various proposals still being considered.
The department must come up with a detailed plan for the empowerment councils within a year. The City Council will then have six months to act on the plan or to revise it, or the department's plan will take effect.
Along with low voter turnout, Los Angeles has relatively few City Council members per capita compared with other cities. New York, for example, has about twice as many residents but more than three times as many City Council members.
Voters in June rejected two measures that would have expanded the Los Angeles City Council to 21 or 25 members, thus the neighborhood councils will be the chief tool to reconnect City Hall to the people.
Board member Armour, 39, said of taking the job: "As a social studies teacher, I'm always talking about participatory democracy and what it means to vote. This is participatory democracy."
Armour, who teaches at Sepulveda Middle School in North Hills, said she was intrigued by the idea of linking neighborhood councils via the Internet, an idea she said would increase their effectiveness.
"My primary interests are in the northeast Valley, but the idea of linking the different councils to others through computers so we can exchange ideas and resources, that kind of linkage will make us tighter as a city and tighter as a Valley."
Armour is working toward a master's degree in American Studies at Pepperdine University. She is firmly opposed to Valley secession, she said.
Weaver, 27, said he is looking forward to helping decide the structure of the empowerment councils.
"We will go into the decision process on the councils with fresh eyes and open minds," he said. "But the key is to come out with an approach that will give the strongest voice to the regular Joe and Jane citizen. The people who have been left out of the process in the past. That's what I'm so excited about."
Weaver served as a senior deputy on the staff of state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles). He plans to pay particular attention to giving apartment renters a stake in how the city is run, he said.
He is impressed with the fact that board members must represent the entire city, a fact he believes will keep the panel from becoming balkanized.
Weaver said he is waiting for the results of the secession study before deciding whether to support a Valley split from the city.
"Right now, it's difficult to know where to stand on that issue, because we don't have all the information," he said.
Weaver, who graduated from Cal State Northridge with a journalism degree, is the youngest board nominee and the board's only African American.
Alpert, 52, said his primary concern was ensuring the new department hires a highly qualified general manager.
He cited Police Chief Bernard Parks as an example of the type of general manager he would like to have run the new department. "It's paramount that we hire a person who has that kind of strong leadership ability," he said.
Alpert also said he will study cities such as Seattle and Portland that already have neighborhood councils in place, and grass-roots groups already started by City Council members, to help come up with an effective model for Los Angeles' neighborhood council structure.
Alpert also is awaiting results of the secession study before he makes up his mind on whether the Valley should become a separate city, he said.
The other new commissioners are:
Pat Herrera Duran, executive director of Joint Efforts Inc., a San Pedro family crisis and AIDS prevention community group.
Sister Jennie Lechtenberg, executive director of the PUENTE Learning Center in Boyle Heights.
Christopher Pak, a Koreatown architect and member of the city Board of Zoning Appeals.
William Weinberger, a lawyer who was a member of the elected Charter Reform Commission.