Representatives from the Los Angeles agency that supervises the city’s 93 neighborhood councils are coming to Del Rey to engage in a long anticipated, wide-ranging community forum Tuesday, March 1.
While the location of the meeting is Del Rey, the surrounding communities and their neighborhood representatives are invited to participate. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Marina Del Rey Middle School, 12500 Braddock Drive in Del Rey.
The Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC), a subset of the city Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, periodically visits communities where neighborhood councils exist, but has not come to the Westside in several years.
Board of Neighborhood Commissioners President Albert Abrams said the meeting will revolve around discussion of four or five topics, in addition to public comment and a presentation from the Del Rey Neighborhood Council.
“We will have time for normal commission business at the beginning of the meeting, including public comment for any member of the public,” Abrams told The Argonaut.
Since there are many new members on the Del Rey board, BONC wants to find out what they have been working on and what is important to them, as well as the community they represent.
“We want to know how they spend their money, how they do their outreach, which community projects they work on and what specific issues are important to Del Rey,” the BONC president explained. “We want to get a picture of Del Rey and how they go about their business.”
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe said he welcomes BONC’s pending arrival.
“I’m very excited that BONC will be coming to beautiful Del Rey,” DeSobe said. “I also look forward to having members from all over the Westside come to our meeting.”
DeSobe declined to comment on the council’s presentation.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Del Rey, said he was thrilled that Abrams and his commissioners would be coming to Del Rey. “This will help my staff appreciate what they do,” he said.
The city’s budget and how neighborhood councils could be affected is a topic of discussion that has created unity among the Westside boards, whose influence has grown steadily over the last several years.
In the past, attempts to reduce their financial allotments by the City Council have been met with a united front and the budgets of the advisory councils, which receive their financing from the city government per the city charter, have largely remained intact.
The issue of the factual basis stakeholder, which has generated considerable discussion among neighborhood councils as well as with City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, will likely be one of the evening’s most anticipated topics.
The definition of the factual basis stakeholder, also known as the “affirmation” voter seat, was created in 2008 by the Los Angeles City Council. These potential voters are not required to live, work or own property in the area where they wish to vote. As long as they can “affirm” an interest in a particular neighborhood council, these voters are permitted to cast ballots in that local board’s elections.
While BONC has always supported allowing as many stakeholders as possible to participate in the neighborhood council election process, a number of complaints surfaced after the elections last April regarding people who claimed a tenuous stake in a certain neighborhood being permitted to vote.
“What’s happened is there is concern that there are individuals that are taking advantage of the factual basis definition and influencing elections and the makeup of some local councils,” Abrams said.
The definition of the factual basis stakeholder is perhaps the most important topic of the evening for some Del Rey residents like Mark Redick.
“This is an issue that has to be addressed, because it’s been a total joke,” Redick, a former Del Rey board president, asserted. “It invites abuse and fraud, and it’s quite apparent that is what happened in the last Del Rey election.”
Stephen Knight, a resident and founder of the council, challenged the Del Rey election. The city clerk’s office, which began supervising the neighborhood council elections last year, found no irregularities.
Trutanich’s office sent a letter to BONC last October referencing the grievances that his office received regarding what some called election irregularities. According to Trutanich, 16.9 percent of votes cast in the recent neighborhood council elections were factual basis voters.
Del Rey had 411 total voters, but the largest number of factual basis voters at 89, or 21.6 percent of the vote.
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa had only one factual basis vote in the April election cycle out of 436 ballots cast. Three people who do not live or work in Mar Vista voted in its community council election out of a total of 577, while the Venice council, which had the highest number of voters at 1,178, had 21 ballots that were cast by outsiders.
Rosendahl has long been a supporter of only allowing residents who live in a particular neighborhood the right to vote in a local election. “That’s how it’s done in city, county and state elections,” the councilman noted.
Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench will not be able to attend, as her board meets that night. But she also shares Redick’s interest in how outside voters are defined by Del Rey and BONC.
“If I were able to come, I would probably comment about the definition of a stakeholder and request that they take it up with City Council,” Hench said.
The city budget and how it might affect neighborhood councils is another topic of importance to the Westchester-Playa president, but she feels that discussion should take place elsewhere.
“The budget is an ugly monster and I don’t think BONC is really the right place to voice concern,” she said. “The decision-makers are the city councilmembers, and concerns are best addressed to the people who have the authority to act.”
Fundraising during last April’s election will also be on the table. “There is little legal oversight (of fundraising by candidates of local boards) and it is a very important issue,” said Abrams.
The commissioners sent a letter to the City Council June 3 asking members to develop an ordinance that would address this concern.
“The commission is concerned that there is significant potential for abuse if there are no disclosure requirements for neighborhood council candidates for monies raised during the course of their campaign,” wrote BONC Commissioner Michelle Siquieros. “The lack of disclosure could lend to violations of conflicts of interest laws, since a winning candidate could vote on issues before a neighborhood council board that might benefit a donor,” Siquieros noted.
“The commission believes that all stakeholders and neighborhood council board members deserve to be informed of all possible conflicts of interest through campaign contributions. Accordingly, the commission would recommend the adoption by City Council of an ordinance to address this matter.”
Rosendahl agrees with the commission’s recommendation.
“If someone is raising money and we don’t know who it’s from, how do we know that there’s no undue influence involved?” he asked.
Redick supports the commission’s letter and also feels this is an area where abuse can occur. “The problem is that anyone who raises money must adhere to the same requirements that local and state officeholders do,” he said.
Hench feels there is great significance in BONC coming to the Westside. “It is an opportunity for folks to more conveniently attend the meeting,” she said. “I know that they are taking on some big issues.
“The city is just so big, so it is important for citywide boards and bodies, who are interested in the concerns of their constituents, to hold their meetings around the city.”
Redick looks at the opportunity to have open discussions with BONC officials as one that the community should not miss, as well as being informative for the commissioners.
“There are some real questions about the behavior of some members of the current board,” he said.
Abrams emphasized that public comment for any item will be allowed and will take place near the beginning of the meeting, after commission business is taken care of, which he anticipates will take a few minutes.
“(Public comment) is the most important part of the meeting,” he said. “It adds color to the depth and breadth of the evening.
“Any issue can be brought up.”