Beginning next year, elections for Neighborhood Councils will be run by the Los Angeles city clerk, the Venice local advisory board announced at its March 17th meeting.
In addition, the council considered a new definition for the term stakeholder and revised its policy on the location of street furniture.
Local councils, which serve as advisory boards to the Los Angeles City Council and often act as community watchdogs to keep their council member abreast of what is transpiring in a given districtís neighborhood, are very active on the Westside. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District, frequently calls them ìhis eyes and earsî of the district.
Since their inception in 2001, local councils have held their own elections governed by their respective Rules and Elections committees. But a new city ordinance now mandates that the city clerk oversee all elections, and the Venice Neighborhood Council made its constituents aware of the change at the meeting.
ìThe vote was simply us doing some housekeeping on our bylaws so that the they were consistent with the new system,î Mike Newhouse, Venice Neighborhood Council president, told The Argonaut.
Elections will now be held for officers on the communityís local board every two years during even numbered years, beginning in April to June of 2010. Currently elected board members will have their terms extended until a successor is elected or one is appointed next spring.
Neighborhood Councils will still oversee the elections that pertain to neighborhood initiatives, such as the right to have overnight parking districts, a controversial topic that has generated national press attention.
Following an election in February to determine if Venice residents could have the right to vote for overnight parking districts, several members of the losing proposition alleged that there had been irregularities at the voting location, which was the Venice Public Library. Although they have not produced any evidence of improprieties to date, the organizers of a group opposed to the parking districts have stated publicly that the elections were tainted.
ìThroughout the entire election held by the Venice Neighborhood Council there was massive voter confusion over what the ballot meant and what people were voting on. There were multiple reports of voter intimidation and ballot fraud,î Mark Lippman, an opponent of overnight parking districts, wrote in an e-mail after the election. ìWith all these discrepancies, we can not accept the election results as valid, and several objections have already been raised with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.î
While the decision to have the city clerkís office be responsible for future elections was not due to these allegations or other past accusations by residents against their neighborhood bodies, there are those who think that this will absolve Neighborhood Councils from any accusations of election improprieties.
ìAs for alleged issues with the election (in February), transferring elections to the city clerk is mandatory, and was a done deal almost a year ago. So, there is no relation there,î Newhouse said. ìHaving said that, we do agree that we can make many improvements to our initiative election process, which we will still continue to self-administer.î
The Venice Neighborhood Council also discussed the definition of who is considered to be a stakeholder.
ìThe city, by ordinance, is now requiring all NCs to broaden their stakeholder definition to anyone who ëclaims a stake in their NC, and affirms a factual basis for it,íî Newhouse explained. ìHaving said that, a lot of folks, including me, are concerned about the fact that this definition is not a definition at all.î
Newhouse believes that the abovementioned interpretation could be problematic in a neighborhood election.
ìArguably, anyone visiting Venice on a weekend could show up at an election, say they have a stake in Venice, and vote,î the council president noted. ìSo, we are in the process of deciding whether or not we want to accept this definition or not.î
Further discussions on what comprises a stakeholder will continue later in the year.
The council also took action on the topic of street furniture, another subject that has generated much discussion in Venice. The board voted overwhelmingly to oppose any new street furniture and to request its removal from Venice, and in the process rescinded an earlier policy that would approve of the objects except on major streets, in areas that might inhibit a motorist or pedestrianís view of traffic, and west of Pacific Avenue.
Street furniture is a term used to describe objects and pieces of equipment installed on streets and roads for various purposes, such as benches, bus kiosks, public rest-rooms and waste receptacles.
In addition, the local council requested that Rosendahlís office rescind the current contract that CBS Outdoor and JC Decaux, two large outdoor advertising companies, have with the city government.
A motion was jointly offered by council vice president Linda Lucks and resident Dennis Hathaway that would have required the city government to contribute all or a portion of the revenue paid by the advertising company to a special fund to be used for amenities in Venice that would be ìdesigned to improve its visual attractiveness and provide a more inviting pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.î
CBS/Decaux is in its eighth year of a 20-year contract that grants them the exclusive right to install and maintain its street furniture in exchange for the right to sell and display advertising throughout the 11th District, according to the Bureau of Street Services.
Hathaway, who was unable to attend the meeting, said he was disappointed that his motion did not gain any traction with the board members, especially since CBS/Decaux has a legal agreement with the city government.
ìTo say no to street furniture when the city has a contract is an exercise in futility,î Hathaway, who crafted the original policy motion as a member of the councilís land use and planning committee last year, said in an interview.
Lucks was more direct.
ìI think that itís a very short-sighted position,î she asserted. ìWeíve now lost any voice we had in the matter, any hope of getting any money from the street furniture and a say in where the furniture can (be installed).î
Gail Rogers, who put forth the motion to rescind the earlier policy on street furniture, did not respond to inquiries for this story.