Politics

Skid Row moves to break from downtown neighborhood council

A homeless man walks past a sign painted on a building in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015.
A homeless man walks past a sign painted on a building in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015.
Jae C. Hong/AP

A group of Skid Row residents wants to break away from the downtown L.A. neighborhood council and form its own council. The move will face scrutiny from city officials, who say the district doesn't meet the threshold for the number of residents required for a separate council. 

The Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee announced on its Facebook page last week that it had submitted an application to form its own council after a two year effort garnering community support and collecting signatures.

The application now goes to the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, where it will be approved or denied within the next two weeks. If it gets approved, the decision then goes before downtown residents and stakeholders for a vote, according to the department's guidelines for establishing a new neighborhood council.

In a Facebook post, the committee called the move a "historic moment for the Skid Row community."

General ​Jeff, a Skid Row resident and leader of the formation committee, told KPCC a neighborhood council in Skid Row would "break the district away from" the larger neighborhood council it has been a part of since 2002 — the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC).

Having their own governing body, Jeff said, would give the residents of Skid Row a chance to voice concerns about access to housing and other resources — something he says they weren’t able to do within DLANC.

"Skid Row is known as the homeless capital of America." he said. "We're going to band together to create change where we live, and that itself knocks down stereotypes that we are lazy bums who don't know how to live."

The outlined area in downtown LA shows where the proposed Skid Row Neighborhood Council's boundaries would exist. The Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee submitted its application last week.
The outlined area in downtown LA shows where the proposed Skid Row Neighborhood Council's boundaries would exist. The Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee submitted its application last week.
Courtesy of LA Skid Row, Winston Street blog

Jeff said the Skid Row Neighborhood Council’s main function would be to give a voice to Skid Row's community and create a "blueprint" for other areas in the U.S. with high homeless populations. If established, Jeff said, the council's board would spend 2017 considering local projects to "continue the homeless conversation on a much more consistent basis."

Council bid will have to clear hurdles

L.A.’s 96 neighborhood councils receive $37,000 each year in public funding, according to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment’s website. Councils use the money to create “events and programs that respond to the unique needs of their community or advocat[e] on behalf of the issues they care about."

In order to be approved by L.A.'s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, Skid Row's application must: 

Stephen Box, director of communications from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment told KPCC his office had received Skid Row’s application and would review it, even though the application did not meet department's required population minimum. 

Skid Row's population is estimated to be far below 20,000, but, Box said, if the application's argument is convincing, that requirement could be waived.

"It's not a black and white rule," he said, "There have been councils formed in the past that were never going to get near 20,000." 

Those councils, he said, submitted arguments that their neighborhoods had specific geographic or population needs, and Skid Row's application could do the same. 

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment's deadline to apply to form a new neighborhood council is December 19, according to its website. Box said he expects several other groups around L.A. to apply as well.

Dining alone vs a 'picnic' downtown

Skid Row has been a part of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) since the council was formed, according to DLANC's website. Its  27-member board of directors supports construction projects, plans events and acts as a voice for residents of the greater downtown Los Angeles area, including Skid Row and the Arts District.

Patricia Berman, President at-large of DLANC told KPCC her board had not discussed the Skid Row application thoroughly, adding that she would wait to comment on the group’s application until after the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment approves the application — if it is approved.

Eduardo Alvarado, another member of DLANC's board told KPCC he was opposed to the split. As an advocate for the area's homeless residents, he said Skid Row breaking away from the downtown would be a bad decision.

Instead, Alvarado said, he would encourage more people living on Skid Row to “show up” to DLANC meetings and voice their concerns. In an interview, he compared the council to a picnic.

"One person can bring the bread. One person can bring the peanut butter. One person can bring the Kool-Aid, and we can all eat,” he said.