Some who lost Venice Neighborhood Council races threaten to take election grievances to court

By Gary Walker

Voters cast Venice Neighborhood Council ballots at the Oakwood Recreation Center Photo by Martin L. Jacobs

Voters cast Venice Neighborhood Council ballots at the Oakwood Recreation Center
Photo by Martin L. Jacobs

The Venice Neighborhood Council election on June 5 saw the defeat of eight incumbents with the highest voter turnout in the history of L.A. neighborhood councils, but the drama may not be over just yet.

Alleging improper design and distribution of ballots, dubious voter eligibility, voter inducements by a local restaurant and a web application that promoted council hopefuls while falsely claiming to be operated by the council, some of the candidates who came up short on Election Day are threatening to sue the city.

Former Venice Neighborhood Council member Robin Rudisill, who lost her bid to chair the council’s development-screening Land Use and Planning Committee, filed five such election-related complaints with the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees city’s neighborhood councils.

City officials quickly dismissed those complaints, however, allowing new council members to be sworn in on June 21.

But Venice attorney Mark Kleiman, who lost his bid for one of 13 community officer seats and says he’s also working on behalf of other unsuccessful candidates, isn’t letting go.

“We think people have committed felonies. We think the candidates who won were the beneficiaries of these felonies,” Kleiman said.

Before the city dismissed Rudisill’s complaints, Kleiman pledged to go “straight to court if they turn us down.” As of this week, he says a filing is still in the works.

If Venetians appear to be fighting like Democrats and Republicans over nonpartisan local contests for what’s ultimately an advisory body, it’s because this year’s election tended to cast candidates into two camps — those favoring a slow-growth approach, many of them incumbents, and challengers finding strong support from the local business community.

By and large the incumbents were trounced. Some who supported the challengers distributed slate endorsements far and wide, instructed local businesses to encourage their employees to vote, and in some cases even promised to drive voters to the polls — activities permitted under current neighborhood council election rules, according to city officials.

But Kleiman and others allege the somewhat ambiguous city rules that opened up the polls to local employees, business vendors and other non-residents who can claim a substantial interest in Venice simultaneously opened the door to election fraud.

Newly elected Venice Neighborhood Council member Ilana Marosi, whose grassroots opposition to the operation of Gjusta restaurant on Sunset Avenue aligns her with the slow-growth camp, says many of her new constituents are surprised by voter eligibility rules that wouldn’t fly in traditional elections.

She’s concerned that some of the election winners have ties to local developers who’ve had projects before the council or are even pending review.

“My greatest concern is: How will public trust be restored? As we learned in our [city mandated] ethics training, the public perception is equally if not more important than what is actually done,” Marosi said.

Some winning candidates who received strong backing against incumbents did not return calls or declined to comment on Kleiman’s threatened lawsuit.

Newly elected Venice Neighborhood Council President Ira Koslow, a longtime council member who did not face organized opposition on either end of the spectrum, said lingering negative feelings about the election only amplify his duty to be as fair as possible to all.

“I can’t make people feel better about the election, but I can set the framework to make them feel that they can all participate equally,” he said.