More “factual basis voters,” those who cast ballots in a neighborhood council election without proof that they live or work in that particular community, voted in the April Del Rey Neighborhood Council election than any other council’s election in The Argonaut coverage area.
According to statistics obtained by The Argonaut from the Los Angeles City Clerk Elections Division, Del Rey had more of these voters – 89 – than all of the Westchester-Playa, Venice and Mar Vista councils combined.
The factual basis voter is typically not asked to show any documentation that proves that the voter lives, works or owns property in the community where they will be voting, the requirements for most voters participating in neighborhood council elections under the city charter. They can simply claim that they have a “stake” in the community, unlike “affirmation” voters, who are required to show proof that decisions by a local council can or will affect them in some way.
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 election out of a total of 577, while Venice, which had the highest number of voters at 1,178, had 21 ballots that were cast by outsiders.
Del Rey had 411 total voters, but the largest number of factual basis voters at 89, which is 21.6 percent of the vote. The factual basis average citywide for neighborhood councils in Los Angeles was 16.9 percent.
One Westside resident did not seem taken aback when told of Del Rey’s unusually high number of factual basis voters. “I’m not surprised,” said Ivan Spiegel, a Venice resident.
City officials are beginning to weigh in on the controversial provision to permit outsiders to take part in neighborhood council elections. On Oct. 29, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich asked commissioners with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), which supervises the 92 advisory neighborhood councils, to create a more refined definition of the factual basis voter.
The city attorney said his office has received many complaints about people who do not live in a particular neighborhood but claim to have a “stake” in what happens in that community and voted in the April local council elections.
On Nov. 15, City Clerk June Lemay presented a report to DONE regarding the April election, which included the desire for residents to provide testimony when an election is challenged and the difficulty in defining the factual basis stakeholder.
Locally, some residents and former board members of the Del Rey council charged that there had been fraud and irregularities in the April election and claim that voters were recruited who do not live or work in the neighborhood. The city clerk dismissed the challenges and declared that no evidence was found of voter disenfranchisement or fraud.
To Mark Redick, a past president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, the percentage of factual basis stakeholders in the latest Del Rey election is additional fodder for those who believe that there were election day irregularities.
“I think it shows that it altered some of the races in the election,” Redick, who did not run for reelection, said. “This is supposed to be a neighborhood council election, not a drive-by election.”
Spiegel, the parliamentarian of the Venice Neighborhood Council, pointed out the City Council created the concept of the factualbasis voter through a municipal ordinance in 2008 to stimulate community interest in neighborhood councils and to increase voter participation.
“They were trying to create inclusiveness, which is not a bad thing,” said Spiegel, who spoke as a resident of Venice and an observer of neighborhood council and municipal elections. “Some councils didn’t realize the ramifications.
“Luckily, Venice did and we limited factual basis stakeholders to only one seat.”
Redick took note of the difference in Del Rey’s percentage of outside voters as compared to the citywide average. “It’s nearly 6 percent higher,” he noted. “This adds fuel to the fire and credence to what people have been complaining about.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl is a firm believer in granting only residents who live in a certain neighborhood the right to vote in elections for the advisory councils. “But that’s not the way it is right now,” he said.
The councilman, who represents Del Rey, said he has seen nothing that the new board has done improperly, even though he too has heard complaints regarding the April election.
Thomas Kielty, the Del Rey council’s second vice president, believes that the newly elected members have the neighborhood’s best interests in mind.
“The current board is a tremendous improvement,” said Kielty, who was elected to the council in April. “As a homeowner in this neighborhood, I’m honored to have talented volunteers like Eric DeSobe, Brett Flater and Elizabeth Zamora.
“That is a positive for everyone in my neighborhood.”
Kielty did not answer a question about Del Rey’s percentage of factual basis participation.
On Oct. 14, the Del Rey council put forth a resolution to create its own version of what constitutes a factual basis stakeholder for its community.
The proposed 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 or the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC) “imposing restrictions on stakeholder definitions.”
Flater, the Del Rey treasurer, presented the resolution.
“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,” he explained.
Redick was non-plussed when he heard about his former board’s attempt to create its own definition for non-community member voters. “It was shades of Donald Segretti,” he said.
Segretti was one of former President Richard Nixon’s political operatives who specialized in political dirty tricks.
The resolution was tabled after Jay Handal, the chair of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, cautioned the Del Rey board on the possibility of a takeover by outside interests.
Any change in defining who is a stakeholder requires a change to a council’s bylaws. When asked if Del Rey had petitioned for a bylaws change, DONE General Manager BongHwan Kim replied, “BONC has the final decision on whether a board can change its bylaws and no one has contacted us.”
Spiegel said he worries that this could allow outside interests to unduly influence local boards, which were created to be advisory councils devoid of lobbying, special interests and other pejorative perceptions that often plague elected leaders of municipal, state and county bodies.
“The thing I’m most worried about is that allowing ‘outsiders’ to vote provides an easy way for special interests to take over a neighborhood council,” he said. “What if some developers took over and used the council to approve all their projects?”
Redick said he welcomes the involvement of the city attorney and DONE on the controversial stakeholder definition.
“There is a darkening cloud over this council,” he said. “And this revelation (on Del Rey’s factual basis voters) underscores what I said before: I believe that some members of the current council were elected with outside voters.”