After months of facing the possibility of seeing their elections postponed until 2013, neighborhood council leaders and their supporters can now begin to look forward to one of the most important components of a democracy.
The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance May 8 that will temporarily transfer the authority to conduct local council elections from the City Clerk’s Office to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), the city agency that oversees and supervises the 98 local advisory councils.
This action paves the way to allow the local boards to hold their elections later this summer, and some councils have already begun gearing up for campaigns, outreach and the possibility of electing new members.
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa created an elections ad hoc committee prior to the City Council’s vote. On its website, www.ncwpdr.org, the advisory board lists which seats are up for reelection as well as who is eligible to vote and run for office.
“It would have been unfortunate to have the elections postponed,” said Westchester-Playa council President Cyndi Hench. “Holding elections encourages more community involvement, which I think is a good thing.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl credited his colleagues for their votes to give DONE the green light to supervise the elections.
“This is something that I strongly believe in, as do a large number of neighborhood councils,” the councilman said.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council has produced an election video that is posted on its website, www.delreync.org/DRNC2012Election, as well as on DONE’s.
“I’m thrilled elections are happening later this year,” said Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe.
DONE General Manager BongHwan Kim said it was important to hold the elections this year for a variety of reasons.
“There will be approximately 85 neighborhood councils up for reelection this year,” Kim told The Argonaut. “One of the biggest threats to (neighborhood councils) is that some members have only signed up for a certain amount of time, and those who have been serving almost two terms might decide to step down, which could create vacancies on the councils.”
That has already begun. Last year, the Mar Vista Community Council had to appoint three new members within a period of two months after a succession of resignations for a variety of reasons. The Venice Neighborhood Council has also appointed new members this year, as has Hench’s board.
Kim said that has caused a certain level of upheaval on certain local boards.
“Some of the councils were faltering because people are resigning,” he noted.
Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks echoed many of her counterparts regarding the importance of holding elections this year. “I think democracy demands elections,” Lucks said. “We are not a dynasty.”
The elections will be run on a regional basis this year. Venice, Del Rey, Westchester-Playa and Mar Vista – the neighborhood councils within The Argonaut coverage area – are slated to hold their elections between Oct. 29 and Nov. 11, according to DONE documents.
Half of the Westchester-Playa board seats will be up for reelection.
Hench views elections as a mechanism that can inject fresh views onto local councils as well as offer others the opportunity to participate in grassroots democracy, either through voting or seeking elective office. “Elections can serve to refresh the boards and the commitment of those who are serving,” she said.
There was a time when it was uncertain if the elections would take place this year.
City leaders informed the advisory councils last year that they planned to cancel the 2012 elections and postpone them until 2013 in order to save money, as they continue to grapple with an estimated $457 million budget shortfall.
Ivan Spiegel, the Venice council’s parliamentarian who has been at the forefront of the push to have elections held in 2012, said earlier this year that a budget shortfall was not a sufficient reason to postpone an election.
“The history of this country has been an ongoing struggle for the right to choose its leaders,” Spiegel told the City Council. “This is still America… we don’t cancel elections.”
Per the city charter, neighborhood council elections are scheduled to take place biannually in even numbered years. They typically are held in July.
Looming in the background is the factual basis stakeholder vote. Factual basis or affirmation voters can vote in a neighborhood council election if they can “affirm” a stake or interest in a particular neighborhood.
In an effort to bring more voters into the process, the City Council created the factual basis voter in 2006. Prior to the amended ordinance, eligible voters in a neighborhood council were only those who work, own property or live in a particular neighborhood.
While some claim that this has expanded an increase in diverse voices participating in community planning and dialogue, others view it as a good idea that has gone bad over the years due to voters who do not live, work, or own property in a given community taking part in elections with ulterior motives.
Rosendahl is not a fan of the affirmation stakeholder vote. “I have been very clear and very upfront on this over the years, he said. “My position always has been that people who live in a community should be the ones who are eligible to vote.
“I have a problem with people who don’t live in a given area and who are voting there.”
Rosendahl has pointed out in previous interviews that in statewide elections, as well as county and City Council elections, a voter is required to live in a given district where they vote and no one can “affirm” an interest in a neighborhood outside their residence and vote there as well.
As in past elections, DONE plans to hire independent election administrators who are trained to oversee elections. The agency also needs time, between now and August, to hire and train personnel for other election positions as well as to allow each council to conduct election outreach.
Kim said it is unlikely that there will be any new additions to the election procedures, given the short time period left to train inspectors. “We don’t anticipate any major changes in policy,” he said.
DONE’s general manager estimates the elections will cost approximately $650,000 and he said that sum will be considered when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council begin budget discussions.
“(Funding for neighborhood council elections) will be decided during the overall budget,” he said.
Lucks said she hopes city leaders appropriate funds for the elections. Otherwise, the local councils could be forced to use a good deal of their current allotments.
Rosendahl said the decision to allow the elections to go forward was in part due to the influence that local advisory councils have gained over the last several years.
“Elections should be regular and standardized just like (City Council) elections,” he asserted. “This is due in large part to a creative strategy by DONE as well as the neighborhood councils that spoke so passionately about the need for grassroots democracy, and elections are a part of that.”
Kim said there is a sense of urgency for DONE as well as the neighborhood councils to begin the necessary groundwork to lay the foundation for a smooth election.
“The need for timely action by the City Council is essential for us to stay on our current timelines,” Kim cautioned.