After working for eight years in adjacent CD5 for Councilmember Paul Koretz, John Darnell is now a project director for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment also known as EmpowerLA, whose mission is to promote citizen engagement.
Last month, when Darnell conducted an information session on how regular citizens can get involved in local government he gave a bit of a history lesson to those gathered.
Eighteen years ago, the voters passed charter reform in the City of Los Angeles, creating the Neighborhood Councils system and Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, began Darnell. There are over four million people who live in Los Angeles, that’s about the size of the state of Colorado! We are spread over 465 miles, with 7,366 miles of street and divided into 15 City Council districts each representing about 260,000 people. The neighborhood councils are city-certified, grassroots organizations that represent their local community and help make the city more responsive, explained Darnell.
“We are chartered by the City, said Darnell. “We can’t just go away and that’s important. We are one of just a handful of cities in the country with a department that exists entirely to encourage civic participation.”
Darnell is deeply committed to the mission of public engagement. As he describes it, before the formation of the neighborhood council system, it was easy for the council to forget who they worked for. Now there are 97 neighborhood councils across the city, each representing between 20,000 – 100,000 people. While it’s not a perfect system, admits Darnell, the neighborhood councils are a very good way for regular folks to have their voices heard and get involved in solving the challenging issues that face our city like homelessness, traffic, housing and development, etc.
An LA native, Darnell was born in the San Fernando Valley were he grew up. He studied political science and urban planning at Cal State Northridge and worked as Verizon customer service representative while he went to college. He credits his 6-year tenure at Verizon as excellent training for his constituent service work in CD5.
“People are really unhappy when their phone doesn’t work!” joked Darnell. After college Darnell, volunteered for Koretz’s campaign, working the San Fernando Valley. After the election Darnell worked as a field deputy on Koretz’s staff eventually working his way up to District Director.
Earlier this year, Darnell left to join EmpowerLA where he still works with constituents, but the hours are more flexible and less demanding, much better suited to his young family. As a part of the Policy and Government Relations team at DONE, Darnell works with all the city department trying to address some of the most challenging issues facing the City. His job is to bring neighborhood councils together to learn more about the Mayor’s policy initiatives on homelessness, water conservations, filming, etc. and hopefully support those efforts.
Darnell provides support to six neighborhood councils including Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, Mid-City West, Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council and Pico Neighborhood Council.
By attending all their meetings and getting to know the local volunteers, Darnell hopes he can encourage more people to become involved in city government. And, he’s quick to point that anyone is welcome to get involved; you don’t have be elected to the neighborhood council to serve on a committee or attend meetings. He sees it as the best way to get access to information which he considers fundamentally important to good government.
“A neighborhood council isn’t always representative of the whole neighborhood but it is of the people who participate,” said Darnell. And that, he added, is what motivates him to get more people involved and work together to build a better community.
If all that sounds good and you want to get involved, EmpowerLA invites you to learn more about the City’s planning process starting next month. Last year, the City Council committed the Planning Department to update all the neighborhood Community Plans. In preparation, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the Planning Department are hosting a series of training sessions called “Planning 101” to be held around the City in August.
The trainings are intended to provide an overview of the basic elements of planning, land use and zoning. These sessions should be of interest to anyone who care about land use and zoning issues.
Below are two locations closest to the Wilshire area.
Wednesday August 2, 2017
Constituent Service Center
8475 S. Vermont Ave, Community Room
Los Angeles, CA 90044
Tuesday August 15, 2017
City Hall East
200 N. Main St, Room #351
Los Angeles, CA 90012
EmpowerLA recommends that you RSVP for the trainings by emailing Lisette Covarubias from the Department of City Planning at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone, at 213.978.1321.