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Alan Ferdman: Neighborhood councils play a vital role

SCV Voices

Posted: August 7, 2010 4:21 p.m.
Updated: August 8, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Tim Myers’ column, “The problem with districts” (Aug. 1) should have been titled “The problem without districts.”
Myers’ commentary rightfully points out that several Santa Clarita neighborhoods feel disenfranchised by the current method of electing City Council members “at large.” He went on to state that, “Political scientists and other academics pretty much agree that an at-large system assures the marginalization of any minority populations in a municipality, since they tend to congregate in specific districts but do not possess enough votes to impact the at-large majority.”

But that “minority population” feeling seems to be getting more pronounced. When the city of Santa Clarita formed, we said it had a “small-town feel,” but as it has grown larger through development and annexations, that feeling has changed.

As the city has become larger, without existing communities having a voice in those decisions, our representation appears to be more and more diluted. While opponents of “council members elected by district” claim that district representation will cause our representatives to focus only on their districts needs, that is just what existing neighborhoods would like to see.

Yet other local municipalities have used neighborhood empowerment to help minimize this issue. One only has to look around. Los Angeles’ Department of Neighborhood Empowerment has implemented a robust neighborhood council process that supplies neighborhood councils with a well-documented methodology, training, facilities, funding and regular access to decision makers. The neighborhood council system now has 91 active individual councils, with the recommendation that every 20,000 residents can form their own group.

Simi Valley sponsors four neighborhood councils that meet regularly once a month. Lancaster published a neighborhood organizational handbook, which can be downloaded from its website, providing guidance on how to organize and form individual neighborhood groups. Los Angeles County’s Fifth Supervisorial District has 18 organized town councils to provide for unincorporated communities.

So, what has the city of Santa Clarita implemented? Approximately 15 years ago, our city management looked to start neighborhood advisory committees. Two of those groups — the Saugus Action Team and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee — still exist. I became involved with the CCAC around 2000, was first elected chair in 2002 and have been reelected each year since.

Some critics of advisory committees or neighborhood councils claim they are ineffective. But in truth, like anything else the effectiveness of any group depends on the efforts of the individual members.

The CCAC has evolved into a valuable informational resource. During the past three election cycles we have hosted city council election forums and “meet the council candidate” sessions. These sessions provide the only public venue where community members are able to ask unscripted questions of all council candidates live and in real time.

Presentations are regularly provided by developers looking for community feedback on their projects. City staff and other public agencies provide information on local public-works projects, community groups from all over the Santa Clarita Valley have discussed issues impacting their neighborhoods and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee regularly provides additional insight on many other city-related topics.

Canyon Country Advisory Committee meetings have always been open to the public. There has never been an admission fee and everyone is welcome to attend.

Unfortunately, Santa Clarita’s city management has recently moved in opposition to the concept of neighborhood groups.

At the end of June, City Manager Ken Pulskamp informed me the city would be breaking ties with the Canyon Country Advisory Committee. The city would no longer be providing a meeting location or regular city staff support. His current rationale is the city of Santa Clarita’s new policy to only support activities that benefit the entire city. 

In light of how many other municipalities embrace neighborhood groups, it seems odd the city of Santa Clarita would want to pull the plug on its two advisory committees. Is open communication with public no longer important at City Hall? Who initiated this new policy and when was it approved? I was under the impression that the Santa Clarita City Council set policy and the City Manager implemented that policy.

I sincerely hope Santa Clarita’s city management would reconsider their position and restore support to advisory committees. If they chose otherwise, I am sure it will add fuel to the fire for those who will champion changes to elect council members by district.

Alan Ferdman is a Canyon Country resident and chairman of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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