Candidates start lining up for potentially game-changing neighborhood council elections

By Gary Walker

And so it begins.

A busy 2014 election season on the Westside is off and running, with candidates now able to pull papers to run for dozens of open local neighborhood council seats and a few longtime officeholders announcing they will step down.

All seats on the Mar Vista, Venice and Del Rey neighborhood councils — a total of 49 — are up for grabs in a May 18 vote. The election will also determine 15 spots on the 31-seat council for Westchester and Playa del Rey.

Elections for neighborhood councils, which function as advisory bodies for the Los Angeles City Council and other city officials, occur every two years.

Stakeholders who live, work or own property in those areas have until April 3 to enter neighborhood council races, and so far only a handful have signed up.

Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks said she will be leaving the board this year after serving two terms as president and two as vice president.

Mar Vista Community Council Chair Sharon Commins and Eric DeSobe of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council have also decided to not seek reelection.

“I’ve been on the board for 10 years, and now it’s time for someone else to step up and show their commitment to the community,” said Lucks, who also serves as one of seven appointed members to the Los Angeles Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, a policy body for the neighborhood council system.

Marlo Richardson, a seven-year Playa del Rey resident running for an at-large seat on the Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa, said she hopes to help build a more cohesive community.

“I felt the need to take ownership of where I live. I think we need more community events so that we can get to know one another,” said Richardson, a Los Angeles Airport Police sergeant who had owned the former Berri’s Playa Café.

This year’s elections may shape up differently than previous contests.

A group of Playa del Rey residents say they plan to make controversial development projects a dominant campaign issue. They’re also pushing for reforms to an existing state law (known as Senate Bill 1818) that allows developers to increase the size and density of projects by including affordable housing units.

“SB1818 and the overall plan of the city to rezone L.A. should be of concern to all residents, as it will impact so many aspects of our daily lives,” said Julie Ross, an emerging neighborhood leader who rallied opposition to the Legado condominium project on Culver Boulevard and has been critical of the Westchester – Playa Neighborhood Council.

Ross is not currently running for a seat on council but is worried that new large developments will drastically alter the character of existing neighborhoods.

“The upcoming neighborhood council election is a great opportunity to build on a new level of awareness in our community regarding all of these impacts,” Ross said. “It is no longer desirable or appropriate to allow a handful of historically development-friendly individuals to determine such important quality of life issues, particularly when the community clearly opposes so much of what our current development-friendly neighborhood council supports.”

A key difference from the election two years ago is a change in voter eligibility for neighborhood council races.

In the past, people who did not live or work within a neighborhood council’s footprint could nonetheless vote for its members by presenting receipts from local businesses to argue they had a stake in the future of the neighborhood.

This year, voters must demonstrate that they live, work or own property in the neighborhood where they vote or have a substantial community interest.

For information on how to become a candidate, call (818) 293-VOTE or visit empowermentLA.org.

gary(at)argonautnews.com

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