With the possible exception of Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce President Michael Nogueira, few people running for a seat in the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council elections scheduled today, Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Eagle Rock City Hall, are as familiar with Eagle Rock as Robert Guevara.
Guevara first came to the neighborhood in 1966 as an Upward Bound student from Lincoln Heights visiting Occidental College. He has been living in Eagle Rock for the past 27 years. A semi-retired lawyer by profession, he used to do legal aid work, besides representing disadvantaged people in federal employment discrimination cases. These days, he mostly practices family law and makes court appearances for other lawyers.
Elected to the ERNC in 2010, Guevara is one of five candidates, including Nogueira, who are running for the president’s post. Here are excerpts from an interview he gave to Eagle Rock Patch on Thursday:
Why did you decide to join the ERNC?
I wanted to see what we could do to influence things. I got interested in the Neighborhood Council from watching City Hall meetings on the cable, and I saw some things going on there that caught my interest. What caught my attention, too, was an issue that was going on in Eagle Rock several years ago about a football coach getting fired at Eagle Rock High School. And I wanted to see how Eagle Rock was handling that. That’s what pulled me in.
So I went to the Neighborhood Council meetings to check it out for a few months, and they wanted to know if anybody wanted to be appointed for education. I had been a teacher from 2003 to 2006 at Lincoln Heights High School, my alma mater. I was appointed education director in 2009. I ran for the position in the 2010 elections. I think 88 people voted in that election—a real low turnout. I got 66 votes or something like that. There was no opposition.
What do you think is the best thing about the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council?
Probably the best thing is that we have a pretty committed group. We don’t talk too much to each other—I’m not sure if that’s because everybody’s too busy or what. But we generally have meetings that are not too wild—some Neighborhood Councils have a lot of conflicts. We have an 18-member board that’s not fully staffed right now. Boyle Heights used to have 35 seats—they trimmed that down. Mid City West has 45 seats. When you have a big board, it makes things kind of unmanageable.
The other thing is that our area is totally within Council member [Josè] Huizar’s district—CD 14. Glassell Park has three Council members—[Ed] Reyes, [Eric] Garcetti and Huizar. With redistricting, Reyes took over and Garcetti is out—he’s running for mayor right now. But the point is that you either have three people paying attention to you or three people ignoring you. So, Eagle Rock is kind of a self-contained community. If you go to Arroyo Seco, they have multiple communities.
What’s the worst thing about the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council?
We don’t get outside Eagle Rock. There are a lot of things—meetings and events—that are open to us, and which we should be doing to enhance our powers. We’re all volunteers, but that doesn’t mean you ignore what you need to do. You’re either appointed or elected to your position. You’re officially part of the City government, pursuant to the City charter. And you owe it to the constituents to do the most you can do.
Would you say you’re a political animal?
I really don’t consider myself a politician, even though I have an interest in city and state politics, and I grew up with a lot of people who are in politics. I think of myself more as an ombudsman. I like to see what politicians do—I talk to people who are in the know, and I pass the word on. A lot of the stuff that happens in City Hall, for example … I used to think they’re very competent and that things run on automatic pilot there.
But then I found out what they do, from watching their meetings, and really, we’re getting tricked by them all the time. They do what they want to do and we really don’t get informed. As a Neighborhood Council, we’re supposed to get a heads-up from the City Council so that we can reach the community, get some feedback from the community and pass the feedback to the Council. But we meet once a month, there’s such a long turnaround time, and the Council knows that. They push what they want, when they want. They did that with the DWP transfer funds—passed $71 million in one day.
Given the recent controversy over the role of factual-basis stakeholders in voting for ERNC candidates, would you want to change the ERNC bylaws to prevent such stakeholders from participating in the elections?
You could have the factual-basis category be represented by one specific position on the Neighborhood Council. So we could have eight sub-districts and the factual-basis as a seat. And the factual-basis voters would vote for only that representative.
Is that something you’d push for if elected?
I’d ask the people. It’s not what I want—it’s what the people want. From what I hear, that’s what they want. But again, we’d have to request participation. The more you can get people involved and knowing that they can vote or have a say in what we do, the better off everybody will be.
How would you ask the people?
We can do surveys. We could announce a special meeting solely for that topic. We could have a bylaw committee or an ad-hoc committee. And people in the community can join those committees so that they’re part of the deciding personnel and not just the audience.
At the Candidates Forum last Tuesday night, several candidates said they’re in favor of the ERNC taking on one big project and trying to push it through instead of tackling several smaller projects. What’s your view of that approach?
Right now, the thing that’s moving most people in Eagle Rock is Take Back the Boulevard. That is primarily headed up by TERA, the group of homeowners and residents interested in improving the community of Eagle Rock. They’re a contrast with the Neighborhood Council because we’re part of the neighborhood but we’re also part of the citywide operation in government.
So we’re not necessarily solely concerned with Eagle Rock. I tell people that the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, even though the city tries not to say that. You can see how the charges for things are going up and services are going down. The city is looking to generate revenue. There’s not a lot of money, and if the city sinks or swims, we will go with it. So we need to be aware of what the city is doing.
For example, the fees for parking meters quadrupled and the hours got extended here in Eagle Rock. That happened citywide. In San Pedro, that appeared to be the reason for businesses to be depressed. So this past year, the new Councilman for San Pedro, [Joe] Buscaino, decided to take out the computer-driven parking meters and just leave parking signs up. So that they won’t have this oppressive element killing the businesses. Everybody’s happy about that. And they saved some money because it’s pretty expensive to break even on those computer-driven meters. So, those are the kind of things we could do in Eagle Rock if we got more organized. But if people don’t know about it, it’s not going to happen. That’s what the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council should be doing as an intermediary between the government and the community.
You have so much information at your fingertips and a desire to disseminate it that you have a tendency to go on and on—you literally don’t know when to stop. Do you think that’s going to be a handicap if you’re elected president?
Well, I think everybody will tell me. Nobody is going to be shy on the Neighborhood Council. But the point is that a lot of time when you’re writing things, you don’t know how much to put down until you’re achieved your purpose of persuasion. If you end something early, with material still there, you don’t know if that would have been what you needed to carry the point across.
You wouldn’t mind it if people told you that you’re going on too long?
I already know I do.
But where does that come from?
You know what it is—I learn stuff, and there’s so much trivia that I don’t know what to do with it. So I might as well share it because it’s not doing me any good! Maybe I’ll put all this stuff down in a newsletter.