By Gary Walker
Taking a first step toward minimizing what many in their community feel is an unwarranted amount of unwanted campaign material at election time, the Mar Vista Community Council has voted in favor of sending a letter to the Los Angeles City Council asking to allow its residents the option to no longer receive campaign mailers.
The unanimous vote came a week before the mayoral election between Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, an election where both campaigns and their supporters had flooded the mailboxes of registered voters with dozens of direct mail pieces leading up to the May 21 election.
The item was postponed last month in order to allow the community council to research the policy initiative further.
There was little debate among the board members before they announced their vote May 14.
“I think it is an idea that should be explored for those who want to opt out,” said council chair Sharon Commins.
The resolution was brought to the board by the community council’s Green Committee, whose members not only object to the avalanche of mailers but also to the amount of paper that they say is being wasted by political campaigns on direct mail that eventually winds up in trash cans or recycling bins.
Mar Vista residents are some of the most environmentally conscious in the region, and their attempt to opt out of receiving a candidate’s direct mailings is as much about the concept of sustainability as it is the nuisance factor of being inundated with paper-based campaign advertisements.
Sherri Akers, one of the motion’s biggest proponents, applauded the local council’s vote.
“I don’t think I have spoken to anyone who has not seen this possibility as a welcome relief,” said Akers, a former Green Committee co-chair.
One board member thought the actions of the Green Committee were noble but wondered about the feasibility of trying to stop all or most campaign mailers.
“Realistically, I think you’ll be able to limit some but not all of it,” said Ken Alpern.
Dan Schnur, a former political strategist, thinks the concept has merit.
“For Mar Vista residents, it could have significant environmental as well as psychological benefits,” said Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh School of Politics at the University of Southern California.
“These seem to be very civic-minded people who are not trying to avoid information from candidates but they don’t feel that an onslaught of direct mail is the best way to engage them in the conversation.”
Akers brought several mailers to show the council that she had received over several weeks. “Mainly, we’re not looking to eliminate it but to control it,” she told the board. “My father still wants campaign mail and I want him to still get it.”
Akers pointed out what other supporters of this idea have since the community council considered it last month: that citizens can conduct many aspects of their daily lives without using paper, including paying their utility bills.
“We have the option of communicating exclusively by email with our banks, credit card companies – even the (Department of Water and Power),” she said. “This is just something whose time has come and has simply been overlooked until now.
“I consider myself a very engaged and fully informed voter. I don’t need the delay and resource drain of waiting for information to hit my mail box,” Akers added. “But of course, unless someone makes this selection, we support the system defaulting to communicating with them via paper through the mail.”
Cheryl Gelling, who works with a local nonprofit organization as a consultant, said she hopes there are provisions that will not inadvertently cause contenders for public office to be hampered when trying to reach potential voters.
“I don’t have a problem with ‘opting out’ if the resident provides an email address to receive candidate information from candidates and there is a process in place for new candidates to be able to reach out to advocate, to relay their views and ask for a vote from community members,” said Gelling, a Mar Vista resident who attended the meeting.
Ivan Spiegel, the parliamentarian of the Venice Neighborhood Council, has worked as an elections inspector in municipal elections. He was overseeing the May 21 election at the Electric Lodge.
“I love the idea (of having an opt-out mechanism for voters),” Spiegel said during a break at the Electric Lodge, a Venice voting precinct where he has worked for the last several years on election day. “I think (spending money on campaign mailers) is a terrible waste of money.”
Akers would like the “opt-out” concept to spread beyond Mar Vista.
“I plan on reaching out to friends with other neighborhood councils and hope that they will join us in the effort,’ she said. “Los Angeles could really take the lead in developing a more sustainable approach to elections.”
The local council plans to forward the resolution to Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista. §