Venice rocks the vote, Westchester-Playa and Del Rey stay quiet

By Gary Walker

A record high voter turnout for the Venice Neighborhood Council elections last Sunday changed the local political landscape, with the influx of new voters sweeping nine incumbents from office.

Competing views on development and homelessness spurred members of the business community and slow-growth activists alike to put their muscle behind candidate endorsements, fueling a stampede to polling stations
at the Oakwood Recreation Center.

The field of 68 candidates seeking 21 seats attracted 2,792 voters — a record not only for Venice but also the highest-ever voter turnout for any Los Angeles neighborhood council election, according to Citywide Neighborhood Council Elections Director Jay Handal.

“We knew it would be a big
election and we were ready. We ran a good, clean, transparent election,” Handal said.

All election totals remain unofficial until certified, and new board members will be sworn in next month.

While Venice saw the highest voter turnout, the Mar Vista Community Council nearly tripled voter participation, with 618 ballots cast this year versus just 215 in 2014. Voters in Mar Vista returned former council chair Rob Kadota to the board, while incumbents Valerie Davidson and William Scheding lost their seats to newcomers.

Voter turnout for the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, meanwhile, took a precipitous downturn from two years ago. After drawing the city’s second-highest number of voters two years ago, participation dropped from 1,135 in 2014 to only 244 this time around.

Westchester-Playa board member Garrett Smith, a member of the Westchester-Playa council who was not up for reelection, said low turnout reflects community members being more in sync with each other this year.

“The last time around we had a lot of controversy. Legado [a contested mixed-use development] and other issues were hot,” Smith said. Now, “We are trying to work together to preserve and protect the community as it is.”

Voter turnout for the Del Rey Neighborhood Council elections dropped 50%, from 141 ballots cast in 2014 to just 65 this year. Only three of Del Rey’s 13 seats had contested races, and each incumbent who ran for reelection won.

In Venice, the historic high turnout benefitted candidates supported by the local business community.

Nine of the 10 newcomers or current council members backed by the Venice Chamber of Commerce won seats.

That includes architect Matthew Royce, who defeated incumbent Robin Rudisill 1,315 votes to 956 for the position of Land Use and Planning Committee Chair, which those who are active on development issues have come to see as the council’s most important seat.

Longtime Venice resident Laura Alice, who volunteered to work the polls, said she identified dozens of employees from local business in line to vote. Local workers and others who demonstrate a significant community interest are allowed and encouraged to vote in neighborhood council elections even if they aren’t residents.

“It seemed like the businesses did better outreach than the council,” Alice said. “But the turnout was amazing. It shows how we’re such a politically engaged community.”

Longtime Venice Neighborhood Council member Ira Koslow, neither endorsed nor opposed by the chamber, won the president’s chair, and Chamber of Commerce Vice President George Francisco won the vice presidency.

Handal said Los Angeles City Hall should take note of the nearly 3,000 votes cast in Venice as a sign of the growing significance of neighborhood councils.

“It’s a great example of ‘be careful of awakening a sleeping giant,’” he said.