Empowerment. That was the buzzword Saturday during a citywide congress of Los Angeles neighborhood councils hoping for a greater voice in government. On the fifth anniversary of the first of what became 89 neighborhood councils, city officials joined residents in calling for a louder voice of the people. “Are we here to stay? Are we here to have our voice heard?” asked Guy Leemhuis of the Neighborhood Council Review Commission. “Are we here to be empowered here in the city of Los Angeles?” “Yes!” shouted an estimated 1,000 participants at the Congress of Neighborhoods. The city-run congress at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel downtown was a one-day rally for broadening the strength and effectiveness of the neighborhood council movement. Throughout the day, residents breezed in and out of seminars covering everything from public safety and parks to how councils can work to improve city services. One seminar on best practices covered topics including how to obtain trees, paint and trash cans from the city and calling 311 to express local grievances. “I’m excited,” said Vas Singh, 62, on the board of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council. “I like the interaction with the community leaders from the different councils. This is an opportunity to interact with city managers. It is good to see the feedback from the mayor.” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, speaking about the loss of neighborhood children to gang violence, drew a standing ovation from the congress. “With the neighborhood council movement, we’re seeing the power of people coming together to make a difference,” Villaraigosa said. “Our neighborhood councils must play a significant role in empowering parents to take back their schools.” Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarc n, head of a committee overseeing neighborhood councils, pledged to cut red tape and to double the councils’ annual $50,000 allotments. He also promised better outreach to draw community involvement from neighborhoods lacking councils. “We have the greatest urban model in the history of mankind,” Alarc n said of the council program. “Our challenge of the neighborhood council system is to come together in one resounding drumbeat to bring this city together. “We can’t exclude anybody from the process.” dana.bartholomew @dailynews.com (818) 713-3730160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!