The main authority of ANC commissioners comes from making recommendations to the DC Council and DC government about many different community issues, such as parking, recreation, street improvements, liquor licenses, zoning, restaurants and businesses, police protection, sanitation and trash collection, and the District's annual budget. The ANCs can often be influential in these matters.
ANCs also have a budget for making local grants, and their decisions on those are final. They submit their spending decisions to an auditor after they have been made.
Generally, ANCs are seen as the first source for community feedback on virtually every civic issue in DC. Public officials, businesses, advocates, and other stakeholders often present to the ANC. And ANCs often meet with or testify before the Council on legislative and budget issues and before agencies on regulatory issues. They also provide a venue for discussion on other important community issues that aren't easily categorized.
For some decisions, like local grants, ANCs make the final determination. On other questions, like liquor licenses and zoning, decisions of the ANC are indeed considered advisory. However, the DC Code (DC Code § 1-309.10) requires that government entities like the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Office of Zoning give "great weight" to the ANC's recommendation.
Courts are still working out the exact implications, but the recommendations and decisions of ANCs are quite influential. Each DC agency is required to give an ANC notice of matters before them that are occurring in that ANC. The ANC then has the opportunity to express their opinion on that matter. Agencies must give this ANC opinion "great weight." While this isn't always the final decision on a matter, the agency must at the very least acknowledge the views of the ANC and explain why they are are agreeing or departing from it. DC Code § 1-309.10
Some examples of issues that ANC commissioners examine and make recommendations about include: