Former Del Rey council president calls for ethics probe of video
BY GARY WALKER
The head of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the Los Angeles agency charged with supervising the city’s 93 neighborhood councils, plans to ask the City Council to give local boards the option of keeping the “factual basis” stakeholder provision or eliminating it.
After witnessing a YouTube video Aug. 2 where two candidates in the 2010 Del Rey Neighborhood Council election openly solicited votes for their candidate slate from factual basis voters, DONE General Manager BongWan Kim told The Argonaut that he will recommend two options that the City Council take in order to address the current situation.
“I would recommend that neighborhood councils be provided the choice of keeping the factual basis stakeholder or eliminate it,” Kim said. “There has been talk of eliminating it altogether.”
Factual basis stakeholders are voters who “affirm” a stake in a community but do not live or work there. Until the City Council passed an ordinance allowing outside voters to cast ballots in an election in 2008, only those who live, work or own property in a community were eligible to take part in local elections.
In the YouTube campaign clip, Del Rey council Treasurer Brett Flater and President Eric DeSobe list a variety of locations at the Villa Marina Marketplace in Del Rey where viewers could become eligible to vote in last year’s elections by engaging in commercial transactions there.
“If you’ve come to see a movie in Del Rey, you’re a stakeholder,” Flater tells viewers. “If you shop here (at DSW Shoes), you’re a stakeholder.”
The video also lists sites where potential voters can visit to qualify as stakeholders, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and Costco, which are in Culver City, the grocery store Pavilions and the Cat Practice. Earlier in the campaign video, viewers are told “residency is not a requirement to be a stakeholder in Del Rey elections.”
Ivan Spiegel, the parliamentarian of the Venice Neighborhood Council, showed the video at an Aug. 2 meeting of the city Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC), a subset of DONE.
DeSobe has said he would be amenable to changes in the factual basis definition if the supervising agencies recommend them. “If BONC decides that their current rules are inconsistent with their desired outcome of robust community participation and dedicated community action, then I support them clarifying the rules,” he said.
After learning of the video’s existence, a former Del Rey Neighborhood Council president is calling on City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission to investigate whether any election laws were breached.
“There seems to be a disturbing pattern of behavior here,” said Mark Redick, who did not seek reelection in the last neighborhood council campaign. “There has been testimony given by true Del Rey stakeholders that there was open solicitation of outside voters at the Venice Neighborhood Council election to come to Del Rey and vote there.”
Del Rey resident Dan Savage told BONC members at a meeting in Del Rey in March that he had witnessed what Redick described and made the same claims at a subsequent meeting.
Former BONC President Albert Abrams called both Redick’s and Savage’s testimonies at the Del Rey meeting significant.
“(Redick’s) was very powerful, and Savage’s gave personal, live testimony to something that the city and our commission have heard about and are concerned about,” he said. “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.”
Former Mar Vista Community Council Chair Rob Kadota thinks having the option of a local board keeping the factual basis position is a good idea.
“I’m supportive of a neighborhood council structure that encourages broad representation and participation of the community in their affairs,” said Kadota. “I believe the benefits of having a few seats be open to factual basis voters outweighs the perceived costs.”
While other councils have sought to limit the number of factual basis seats on their boards, Del Rey considered a resolution last year that would resist any challenge to the controversial definition.
Flater introduced a motion on Oct. 14 that opposed limiting the number of seats that a board can set aside for factual basis voters and to establish its own definition of who can run for a seat on the Del Rey council.
“It’s a resolution that promotes our desire for citizen participation, to define for ourselves who a stakeholder is, and oppose anyone imposing on us a mandated removal of the factual basis definition,” the treasurer explained to his board members.
The Del Rey resolution sought to oppose what was referred to as any “top-down mandated, arbitrary number of seats that factual basis stakeholders may vote for and/or run for.” In addition, the resolution listed its opposition to DONE’s “imposing restrictions on stakeholder definitions.”
The motion was ultimately postponed.
The resolution would have required amending Del Rey’s bylaws, which the council is not authorized to do without permission from BONC, and therefore would not have been allowed to stand, Kim said.
“BONC has the final decision on whether a board can change its bylaws,” said the DONE general manager.
Redick believes that the cumulative actions by the current board have given Del Rey a bad name. “If I were a member of the board, I would call for their resignations,” he said.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl says he is always supportive of increased participation in local elections.
“The theoretical idea of people participating in grassroots democracy is the ultimate expression of democracy,” the councilman, who represents Del Rey, said. “But I have a problem with slipping down the slope of people not living in a particular neighborhood and voting in that election.”
Rosendahl, who has consistently expressed the opinion that only residents of a given community should be eligible to vote in neighborhood council elections, continues to feel that way. “If a person does not have the elements of a community, they should not be voting in a local election,” he reiterated.
Mar Vista Community Council Treasurer Alex Thompson, who Kadota said is very involved in running Bikerowave, a do-it-yourself bike shop in Mar Vista, occupies the factual basis seat. “Alex lives out of Mar Vista but has strong affiliations to the community,” Kadota said. “He is also technically not an employee, so while he works in Mar Vista, his work is unpaid.
“Alex’s participation on our board is a perfect example of a reason to continue to offer the option of a factual basis position,” Kadota added.
Kim said the factual basis stakeholder has long been a double-edged sword. “It’s great to see that people are organizing to get people to come out to vote, and I applaud (the Del Rey council) for looking to involve more people,” he said. “But (what happened in the video) does push the buttons of folks who are worried about a takeover of a council by outside voters.”
Redick said that after the April election, he has changed his opinion on who should be allowed to vote. Once a strong believer in the concept of “live, work or own property,” Redick now feels like Rosendahl, that the law should be changed to a policy where only residents vote in neighborhood council elections.
“Based on what transpired in the April elections, I now believe that only those who live in the community should be eligible to vote in neighborhood council elections,” he said.
Kim said he believes there is strong support for the City Council to take action on the factual basis voter this year due to the attention that has been generated around its use and some say, misuses.
“It’s obvious that someone who buys a cup of coffee in a community does not have an interest there,” he said. “So there needs to be a clearer definition of the factual basis and around what is substantive interest.”