Mar Vista Community Council election pits incumbents against energetic newcomers half their age

By Gary Walker

All 13 seats on the Mar Vista Community Council are up for grabs on Sunday in an election featuring 25 candidates, including two opposing slates hoping to set the tone of deliberations over the next two years.

The seven-candidate Mar Vista Makes Waves slate claims to represent the future of Mar Vista. On the whole they’re younger, more representative of renters and — counting several Latinas, one African-American and two LGBTQ members among them — much more demographically diverse than the current nearly all-white council, which they characterize as extremely divisive, not very inclusive and resistant to new ideas. Slate members say they hope to create more unity among board members by moving past intractable arguments.

The seven-candidate Standing Up for Stakeholders slate includes current council chair Elliot Hanna, four other council incumbents and two newcomers. They characterize themselves as an independent voice not beholden to L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, whom they’ve repeatedly challenged by re-litigating the reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard to the point that some members quit out of frustration last year.

“We have a lot of folks in our community that want to keep stuff stirred up, that want us to be divided. But we’re not going to feed into that,” said Gabriel Hill, a volunteer for the council’s Great Streets Committee who’s running for an at-large director seat under the Mar Vista Makes Waves slate.

But it would be inaccurate to define Stand up for Stakeholders members solely by the road diet debate — only one, at-large director candidate Christina Stemar — even mentions it on the slate’s website.

Bonin is the Boogeyman

As an outspoken critic of the council office and the road diet, however, Hanna is openly accusing Bonin of recruiting the Make Waves Mar Vista slate to become his stooges on the council.

“Bonin, who’s done nothing for you, is quietly running a slate of candidates to put the MVCC back in his hip pocket. I’ve fought hard for you and will continue to do so,” wrote Hanna in an election-related post to the Facebook group “Make Venice Blvd Great (Clean) Again.”

Standing Up for Stakeholders candidate Holly Tilson, who is running unopposed for Zone 6 director, welcomed the presence of additional candidates — “The more the merrier; diversity of ideas is great,” she said — but repeated assertions that Bonin is trying to game the local advisory body to his advantage.

“I am bewildered to hear that Council District 11 staff felt the need to recruit candidates for this election and for other open positions. Mar Vista has been a great family community, and the increase in candidates reflects their loyalty,” Tilson said.

‘Shared Values and Principles’

Bonin’s office denies backing candidates or trying to influence the election, and the Mar Vista Makes Waves slate denies that Bonin’s office asked them to run.

“We started to meet each other in the neighborhood while campaigning and, given the current climate [of the council], we started encouraging each other to run. We all connected on so many things,” said Mar Vista Makes Waves slate member Vanessa Colosio Diaz, a 33-year-old creative consultant running for one of six at-large director seats.

Andrea Ambriz, a former deputy director of private sector engagement in the Obama administration White House, also said slate members bonded over their ideals.

“I think that there are shared values and principles that are consistent among us all. Ensuring that we have new perspectives and new energy is certainly at the top of that list,” Ambriz said.

“I feel like the board is a bit stagnant, and we need fresh blood. My focus is going to be on children and education if I win,” said Mar Vista Makes Waves’ Pamula Solar, a mother of two, who faces one opponent (of neither slate) in her bid for Zone 2 director.

“We’re not going to re-litigate the past,” Colosio Diaz added.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Armond Seretti, a lifelong Mar Vista resident and member of the Standing Up for Stakeholders slate, is running unopposed for Zone 4 director.

“At the end of the day I just want my kids to have the same opportunity that I had — to stay here and enjoy the neighborhood like I remember it and make memories here,” he said.

Make Waves Mar Vista’s Tyler LaFerriere, an associate economist at Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation who is running for an at-large director seat, sees different writing on the wall. He sees joining the council as an opportunity to help shape local policies regarding development and sustainability, rather than see Mar Vista run over by them while clinging to the past.

“Mar Vista is going to change, and we can either harness that for the betterment of our community or we can let it happen without our input,” LaFerriere said.

Mar Vista Makes Waves member Ann Bickerton, a research analyst running for an at-large director seat, writes on the slate’s website that she will focus on gathering local input for the impending Westside Community Plan update in order to “craft a community-led plan for the coming decade.”

Outreach, Outreach, Outreach

Incumbent Zone 5 director Michelle Krupkin, who is running for reelection under the Stand up for Stakeholders slate against Mar Vista Makes Waves member Harrison Hopkins, emphasizes on her slate’s website that infrastructure has always been her priority.

“Since 2013, I have co-chaired the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and am part of the team that helped get crosswalks installed at McLaughlin/Charnock and at McLaughlin/Victoria and other intersections,” she writes, also touting her Great Streets Ad Hoc Subcommittee participation to promote healthy trees and stormwater capture.

Hopkins counters that community participation has been lacking. While campaigning, he’s encountered a number of locals who didn’t even know the community council exists.

“I think it’s a sign of how this current board hasn’t been doing its job in bringing people together. They should be doing outreach to everyone in all neighborhoods, not just listening to those who have the same strong opinions,” Hopkins said.

Selena Inouye, president of the Westside Los Angeles Neighbors Network and a community organizer behind efforts to sue the city to reverse the reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard, isn’t part of either slate. Even though critics accuse Hanna and the current council with obsessing over road diet opposition, she’s excited about the prospect of new members on the council.

“Stakeholders want to be heard,” she said, “and in the past that hasn’t always happened.”

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Robin Doyno, a council incumbent who is part of neither slate, is so dissatisfied with the status quo that he hopes voters will be biased in favor of newcomers — even if that means losing his seat.

“Hostility at MVCC meetings has a chilling effect on community participation,” he writes in his candidate statement. “Do not reward those who have helped to make MVCC nearly dysfunctional!”

But to hear council incumbent and Standing Up for Stakeholders member Stacy Shure speak during the May 4 elections forum, there is plenty of room for constituents of different viewpoints to hear each other out and work together.

In a conciliatory gesture, Shure said she would be glad to work with opponent Joshua Nadel, a longtime Mar Vista resident not affiliated with a slate, if he defeats her at the polls.

“If you win I will congratulate you and work with you. I’m sure that the board would welcome you the same way that they welcomed me when I joined,” Shure said.

Tilson is also hopeful about returning to more civil dialogue.

“I can’t fix it alone,” she said, “but we could get somewhere if we listen to each other honestly and respond to what we hear.”