Commentary/22″/dt1st/mark2nd By ROSS HOPKINS The United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley supported the new charter for the city of Los Angeles that passed on June 8. We supported it because it represented an improvement, in some cases minor and in others major, over the old charter. We believe several key changes will benefit San Fernando Valley businesses. Perhaps the most important of these is the creation of neighborhood councils. Although the United Chambers urged the creation of elected neighborhood councils with formal decision-making power, we believe the new councils in their advisory capacity still offer tremendous opportunities to improve the business climate of Los Angeles. The United Chambers calls on the business community and individual chambers to take the initiative in helping create councils in all our San Fernando Valley communities. The process is still being developed, but here are some basic guidelines as stated in the charter and in the proposed ordinance from the City Attorney’s Office: There will be a Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to oversee development of the neighborhood councils. This department will be created by the City Council with a general manager appointed by the mayor, subject to council approval. There will be a seven-member Board of Neighborhood Commissioners to oversee the department. The department will submit a plan within six months showing how neighborhood councils will be created and how every part of the city will be covered by a council. The most important part of the charter for those wishing to lead the creation of the neighborhood councils is the requirements for the councils. I call on business and chamber leaders in each community to do the following: Set a meeting time for the first open meeting on how to proceed with creating a council in the community. Using chamber lists or lists available from the city council member for the community, invite as broad a spectrum of people as possible to participate. This should include representatives of homeowner associations, service clubs, businesses, religious organizations, chambers of commerce, educational organizations, unions and employee groups, and other identified community entities. A notice should be sent to the newspapers to guarantee the opportunity for others to participate. At the first meeting, discuss the creation of bylaws and establish a subcommittee to develop bylaws. Requirements in the bylaws include method of selecting officers, a plan to include all stakeholders in the community, communications mechanisms, and financial accountability mechanisms. Develop a schedule so that a proposal can be submitted to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment as soon as it is functioning. Why should business leaders take the initiative in setting up neighborhood councils? First, those taking the initiative have an inevitable, even if subtle, advantage in making their views heard. Second, business owners and executives are the ones with the greatest stake in protecting the economic viability of the city of Los Angeles. Business leaders need to ensure that their voices are heard first and foremost. The opportunity provided to turn the business climate around in Los Angeles must not be allowed to slip past us. Neighborhood councils can be a voice for a reasonable business tax system and an economic development that ensures continued opportunities for growth. We can use the councils as a powerful voice to recommend major revisions in the gross receipts tax, to streamline and privatize routine city functions, and to recommend further changes in the charter. Third, if business leaders don’t take the initiative, those with narrower self-interests or NIMBYism as their guiding philosophy probably will seize the advantage. While their short-term objectives may be community-minded, their long-term goals tend to be inimical to business interests and economic growth for the community. There are other significant changes in the new charter that business leaders should be aware of and should act on. The new charter creates area planning commissions. The City Council must create at least five of these commissions in the city. Business leaders in the Valley should lobby the council to create two commissions for the Valley so that local land-use decisions will be truly based on the interests of the communities affected. The neighborhood councils must play an active part in advising these area planning commissions on the use of property located in their areas. Finally, business leaders need to pay much more attention to the other existing city commissions. The power of the City Council to overturn commission decisions and impose their own decisions has been removed. While the council can still turn back a commission decision, it can no longer impose its own. Therefore, the focus must shift to the commissions and their role in decision-making. Business leaders who support Valley secession must realize that secession may be many years away. We cannot afford to let the opportunity slip by to make significant improvements now in the business climate of Los Angeles. Let’s take advantage of the new charter to make Los Angeles work for us. Ross Hopkins is a public relations consultant and chairman of the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley.