Low participation in neighborhood council elections means your vote actually counts

Big-money elections pitting entrenched incumbents against underwhelming challengers have become the norm in staunchly Democratic West Los Angeles. Campaigns are dull, outcomes are predictable, and the argument that every vote counts is largely an academic one.

Sunday’s neighborhood council elections in Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey and the Westchester-Playa area will be quite the opposite: Candidates start off on equal footing and the results are largely unpredictable because, compared to elections for higher offices, hardly anybody votes.

Voter turnout for Westside neighborhood council elections historically hovers in the single-digit percentages, which is an absolute shame because neighborhood councils routinely deal with local issues that directly impact quality of life — public safety, development, traffic and homelessness.

Although they largely function as advisory bodies to L.A. City Hall, neighborhood councils wield real power and influence when it comes to local problem-solving, holding hearings on new development, and communicating local preferences to downtown L.A. bureaucrats. Like no other political body in Los Angeles, their job is to listen to residents.

Considering that some neighborhood council races are decided by just a handful of votes, it’s vital that people who care about their community step up to choose who will represent them.

Residents should bring evidence of their address to the polls, and non-resident stakeholders should bring evidence of employment, property ownership, a business license or letter of participation from a local organization.

Do your civic duty on Sunday and vote!


Venice United Kind of Scares Us

Many candidates are upset about homelessness, but some take their anger too far

Cast your vote between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Oakwood Recreation Center, 767 California Ave.

Low voter turnout and a ridiculous election system that needlessly restricts voter choice may allow unqualified and irresponsible candidates to seize control of the Venice Neighborhood Council. Among 50 candidates, more than 36 are running for 14 at-large community officer positions — but voters can only cast a ballot for one candidate, instead of one vote per open seat. This electoral absurdity prevents Venice council voters from having a say in electing the majority of their council, making it easier for extremist, single-issue candidates to win their way onto the council. Shame on current and past council leadership for allowing such a dysfunctional system to persist!

The defining issue among candidates is the temporary homeless housing facility coming to the former Metro bus yard on Main Street — a done deal according to City Hall and the courts, but the raison d’être among the maliciously anti-homeless affiliates of the Venice United group. The Argonaut is sympathetic to residents who are unhappy about temporary homeless housing coming to their immediate neighborhood, but we’re concerned that Venice United has actively promoted hyperbole and fearmongering to achieve their political ends.

Venice United founder and at-large community officer candidate Travis Binen, a charismatic master of stoking social media outrage, crossed a line back in August when he used physical force to shove past a woman while seeking to disrupt a training session for temporary homeless housing supporters; we reported the incident at the time, and there’s now video of the incident circulating on Vimeo.

Venice United affiliate Chris Zonnas, also an at-large community officer candidate, calls for “clean streets and safer neighborhoods” in his candidate statement, but posted to Venice United’s closed Facebook group last year that “The responsibility is on us to make Venice unsafe for vagrants. Whatever means necessary,” which sounds to us like an endorsement of vigilantism.

In a best-case scenario, the Venice Neighborhood Council will be pretty evenly split between temporary housing supporters eager to see the facility function as intended and opponents who will strive to hold the city to promises of limiting quality of life impacts on neighbors. Voters should avoid extremists and support candidates not only with whom you agree, but who wouldn’t try to intimidate you if you disagreed with them.


Let’s Welcome Some Fresh Faces

The young Mar Vista Makes Waves slate can rid the council of its dysfunctional road diet obsession

Cast your vote between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Mar Vista Recreation Center, 11430 Woodbine St.

Two slates dominate voter choices for the Mar Vista Community Council. Standing Up for Stakeholders includes current council chair Elliot Hanna, four other board incumbents and two newcomers. Mar Vista Makes Waves includes seven newcomers who question the effectiveness and inclusiveness of the current board, and rightly so.

The Mar Vista Council (and by extension the Standing Up for Stakeholders slate) has wasted too much time litigating the “road diet” reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard, and its current makeup reflects the absence of previously elected members who quit out of frustration over the council’s incivility and stubbornness.

Mar Vista Makes Waves is markedly younger, more diverse and more inclusive of renter perspectives than their entrenched counterparts — much more representative of what Mar Vista has become, as opposed to what it has been. Supporters of the current guard have spread unfounded rumors that these intelligent and motivated young people are stooges assembled by L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin to challenge road diet detractors on the board, but this conspiratorial rumormongering only reflects poorly on the tellers.

With 25 candidates seeking 13 seats (some of them uncontested, others fiercely competitive), several Standing Up for Stakeholders members will automatically win election. When it comes to the six at-large director seats, change the direction of the council by supporting Mar Vista Makes Waves candidates.


It’s Time to Shake Things Up

Playa del Rey and Playa Vista should secede from Westchester council and breathe life into Del Rey

Westchester-Playa votes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Westchester Municipal Building, 7166 Manchester Ave. | Del Rey votes between noon and 4 p.m. at Marina Del Rey Middle School, 12500 Braddock Drive

The big news among Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa candidates is who isn’t running — namely longtime council President Cyndi Hench, the council’s primary public face for more than a decade, whose leadership experience and community dedication will be missed.

No single issue has emerged to define this election, and only six of 14 open seats are actually contested. Sadly, three seats have no candidates, making it likely that those positions will be appointed by the new board.

The problem isn’t apathy, it’s that the Westchester-Playa council is way too big for its own good — 31 seats to serve roughly 55,000 people, when the city of Los Angeles employs only 15 council members to serve a population of four million. The need for special seats serving Playa del Rey and Playa Vista is bogging the council down.

Del Rey Neighborhood Council races aren’t very exciting either. Only 64 out of some 30,000 possible voters cast ballots in the 2016 election and, despite a robust publicity campaign, we don’t expect to see more than a few hundred ballots cast this year due to a lack of contested races. The majority of candidates in Del Rey need only to vote for themselves in order to win.

Longtime council member Matt Wersinger is unchallenged for the president’s seat, but that’s OK by us — he’ll do a great job, and he’s the best hope the Del Rey council has at making itself more relevant to its constituency. Fighting for new crosswalks and bike lanes on Centinela Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard would be a great place to start.

Moving forward, the fairest and most effective way to achieve a reasonable number of council seats in Westchester-Playa while re-energizing the Del Rey council is to redistrict them: Allow Playa del Rey and Playa Vista to secede from the Westchester-dominated council and join Del Rey to form a new, more fairly apportioned council crisscrossed by Culver and Jefferson boulevards.

That’ll surely stir up more constituent engagement.