Theses Master's

Community Planning in 21st Century Los Angeles: Assessing the Effectiveness of LA’s Neighborhood Council System

O'Grady, Timothy

By the late 1990s, Los Angeles faced threats from three neighborhoods — the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, and San Pedro — which all sought municipal independence by seceding from the consolidated city. The orchestrators of each secession movement promoted similar goals such as “fair share of taxes”, “smaller, more individualized government”, and “more local control.” Wealthy homeowners associations and business leaders joined forces in the San Fernando Valley to bring the issue to a citywide referendum, which ultimately failed in 2002.

As former Mayor Richard Riordan became increasingly worried by these secession movements, he launched two commissions to draft a revised City Charter that voters would need to approve via referendum. A major component of the revised Charter was the creation of a “neighborhood council” system designed to “promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.” Voters approved the City Charter in 1999 and neighborhood councils have been operational for nearly two decades.

This thesis gauges how effective the system has been in achieving its goals of greater citizen participation and more responsive local government. The report hones in on the San Fernando Valley, where secession fervor was the strongest, to examine the extent to which land use- and development-related projects have been debated and discussed by Valley neighborhood councils. Lastly, given the anecdotal stereotype that neighborhood councils are bulwarks against any sort of change, the research explores if and how councils are embracing Los Angeles’ contemporary urbanization trends towards higher-intensity mixed-use and infill developments as well as a growing commitment to public transit expansion.

The study reveals that neighborhood councils have been moderately successful in achieving goals of greater participation and more responsive municipal government despite only serving advisory functions. Neighborhood councils are frequently concerned with land use and zoning matters, and often provide feedback to City Council with their opinions of projects. As Los Angeles becomes less car-centric, neighborhood councils seem to be increasingly more amenable to higher-intensity developments and public transportation projects depending on their local impacts.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
O'Neill-Hutson, Moira K.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 15, 2019