SALES RECEIPT NOT VALID AS STAKE TO VOTE LOCALLY
By Gary Walker
City Attorney Trutanich addresses controversial definition of stakeholder citywide
Moving to address a continuing perception of outside voters influencing neighborhood council elections, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office issued a declaration Nov. 13 that a single sales receipt issued in a particular community should not be used to affirm a “stake” in a neighborhood.
“Rather, each voter’s ‘factual basis’ stake must reflect a substantial interest in the neighborhood, consistent with the significant stake of those who live, work or own property in the neighborhood and who are identified as stakeholders by the city charter,” Trutanich’s office confirmed.
The controversy around voters who do not live, work or own land in a community where they seek to vote has been a source of controversy since the City Council expanded the definition of what comprises an eligible voter in neighborhood council elections in 2006.
When neighborhood councils were created in 1999, the city charter included the definition for eligible voters as anyone who lives, works or owns property in a community. The 2006 addition allowed anyone who can “affirm” a stake in a community to vote, provided they present documentation attesting to their claim.
“The current definition has been problematic for some time and given recent electoral challenges at the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, it is timely that the issue of ‘factual basis stakeholder’ be reexamined in a comprehensive manner by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, with the assistance of the city attorney, and with input from the neighborhood councils,” Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar wrote to his council colleagues, Trutanich and the city agency that supervises the city’s 95 neighborhood councils, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE).
In his Oct. 23 letter, Huizar referred to a situation that occurred in the election of a neighborhood council within his district, where 37 percent of the ballots cast were from factual basis voters.
“On Saturday, Oct. 13, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council conducted its elections where 313 of the 792 votes cast were from those claiming to be ‘factual basis stakeholders,’ who are reported to have little or no relationship with the Eagle Rock community,” the councilman wrote.
“This was clearly an attempt by outside interests to take control of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council and constitutes an abuse of the neighborhood council electoral process.”
Mark Redick, the newly elected vice president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, was pleased to learn that Trutanich was addressing the factual basis question.
“It’s about time,” he said. “The city attorney has confirmed the obvious.”
Del Rey Residents Association President Elizabeth Pollock sent a letter to DONE regarding the Del Rey Neighborhood Council election, where over 20 percent were factual basis voters. Pollock said her association has “serious concerns” regarding the number of factual basis stakeholders who voted in the Oct. 28 election.
“We are writing to the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and to our Los Angeles City Council members to express our concerns about the Del Rey Neighborhood Council factual basis and to suggest that our concerns apply to all neighborhood councils in the city of Los Angeles,” wrote Pollock, who spoke before the Del Rey board about her concerns Nov. 8.
“While including factual basis stakeholders in neighborhood councils adds to both membership and participation in such councils, an influx of stakeholders who have little connection to the neighborhood inserts inappropriate influence into these neighborhood councils and indeed, this was evidenced by what happened to the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council election. For the most part, factual basis stakeholders simply do not represent the will of the community,” she continued.
In Del Rey elections, presentation of a receipt for an item purchased in the community allows anyone to vote.
Tim Ryder, president of Cannabis Clubs United With The Community, took issue with Pollock’s letter and her assertion that affirmation voters are not representative of a neighborhood.
Ryder, an Eagle Rock resident, claimed all the candidates in the Eagle Rock election lived there and were not factual basis voters.
“(They) should not be slandered as ‘outside influences’ as insinuated by Councilman José Huizar in his (City Council) motion,” he said.
According to DONE election records, Ryder lost by 24 votes to José Posada for Eagle Rock’s public safety director in the Oct. 13 election.
West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Chair Jay Handal was the independent election administrator for the Eagle Rock election. He said he witnessed a variety of questionable activities at the election.
According to Handal, several voters asked him for a receipt instead of a voting sticker after casting their ballots. When questioned, they told him they needed the receipt in order to redeem it for $40 of marijuana at a dispensary, providing that they voted for a particular slate of candidates.
“They redefined the meaning of the word ‘grassroots politics,’” quipped Handal, who witnessed a takeover of his council by factual basis stakeholders several years ago.
Ryder accused Huizar, Trutanich and Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council President Michael Larsen of “conspiring to disenfranchise legitimate stakeholders in Eagle Rock, i.e., medical marijuana collective employees, caregivers and members who worked or had a legitimate financial investment in the community.”
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe said his board will examine the factual basis question at a future date.
“Our bylaws, ethics, and election committee will take up the issue of factual basis stakeholder again well before our next election,” he said. “We will take all guidance into account when we meet in the future.”
Presently, the bylaws of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council permit all 15 of its board seats to be filled by factual basis stakeholders.
Ryder ridiculed the Del Rey election turnout and suggested to Pollock that she should be more concerned with her community’s paltry participation numbers.
“The 149 votes that you admirably achieved in your own election versus the almost 1,000 we got in Eagle Rock shows how apathetic and disinterested your Del Rey stakeholders are in their neighborhood council and they really should have to forfeit the luxury of having one at all,” he said.
Pollock referred to an email that was sent by Del Rey board member Frank Sanford two days before the election that appeared to encourage people to vote whose only connection to Del Rey was shopping or bicycle riding.
“Residents who live and work in Del Rey (are) not the only eligible voters,” his email states.
“If you have a factual ‘stake’ in Del Rey such as a child in school, a frequent patron of Del Rey businesses like our farmers market or riding your bike on the Ballona Creek Bike Path, you can declare this stake in writing when you receive your ballot,” wrote Sanford, a real estate agent.
Redick, a founder and former president of the Del Rey council, took umbrage at Sanford’s characterization of eligible voters.
“The enlisting of confederate, illegitimate voters is the ultimate depravation of community,” he asserted. “The city attorney’s (declaration) should extend to riding your bike along the bike path in Del Rey or being listed as the sales agent on a house sold in another community where the agent does not reside.”
Handal said now is the time for the City Council to act to redefine the guidelines for factual basis stakeholders.
“It has finally got their attention and it has to be changed,” he said. §