By Gary Walker
Less than half of the members of the Venice Neighborhood Council Land Use and Planning Committee have not taken ethics training, despite a board resolution requiring them to pass the city’s mandated course by Aug. 1.
The local council, which has historically been one of the most compliant of Los Angeles’ 95 neighborhood councils, voted 15-0 May 22 to amend its bylaws to require the Land Use and Planning Committee to also pass the conflict of interest test.
“Any member of the board of officers who has a financial or material pecuniary interest in an item, as defined by state, federal or local laws, shall recuse themselves from voting on any item in question,” the new rule states.
“Any member of the Venice Neighborhood Council who has not received a certificate of completion for the mandated ethics training within 55 days of taking office, whether by appointment or election, will be prohibited from voting on any land use issues or financial expenditures of any city funds.
“This standing rule shall apply to all members of the Budget Committee and the Planning and Land Use Committee effective Aug. 1, 2013.”
The Land Use and Planning Committee members are Jory Tremblay, Sarah Dennison, Mehrnoosh Mojallali, Jake Kaufmann, Robert Aronson, James Murez, John Reed, Mia Herndon and Steven Traeger.
Their meetings are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. The first meeting of August was held Aug. 7.
Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks said perhaps four or five committee members had shown her their certificates of completion when she was contacted by The Argonaut Aug. 2. Lucks said she will permit committee members who did not comply with the local council’s mandate of Aug. 1 to vote on planning and land use matters, despite the new council guidelines.
“I am making an executive decision that anyone who hasn’t taken the training by Aug. 1 but does so before the next board meeting will be allowed to vote,” she said.
Venice resident Karen Wolfe found the contradiction between the committee’s lack of compliance and the local council’s history of being a standard-bearer on ethics in the city confusing.
“How serious can anyone take the board if they can’t even enforce their own motion?” she asked. “And how meaningful was the motion?”
Sue Kaplan thinks those who have not taken the conflict of interest course should take it prior to voting on any project before them.
“Especially as the mission of the committee is to handle exactly just the sort of things that could bring them into conflict in their deliberations with community and the business community,” added Kaplan, who lives in Venice. “They have a complicit obligation to the community to be forthcoming and responsible in their committee dealings.”
Board member Ira Koslow, who chairs the council’s bylaw committee, said in May that members of the budget and land use committee are instrumental in shaping board fiscal and planning policy in two areas and therefore should be held to the same ethical requirements as council members.
“The idea is if you’re voting on financial and land use matters, then you should be taking ethics training,” he explained.
Only one member of the committee – Kaufmann, the committee chair – is also a member of the neighborhood council, and unlike those on the full board, their compliance or noncompliance with ethics training is not listed on the website of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the city agency that oversees neighborhood councils.
DONE General Manager Grayce Liu said the reason the committee members are not listed is because very few neighborhood councils require their committees to take ethics training.
As for requiring members of certain committees to take conflict of interest training, Liu responded, “For all neighborhood councils, the more that you know, the better it is for everyone.”
Challis McPherson, who is a former member of the local council and the land use and planning committee, said the committee was one of the most important on the council and agrees with the ethics training requirement. “They’ve had plenty of warning about this,” she asserted. “They need to take the training. There is no excuse.”
The committee has been criticized by some residents for prior votes allowing for larger developments and home additions, as well as for approving a number of liquor licenses. While advisory in nature, neighborhood councils and their committees held a great deal of sway with former City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represented Venice.
Councilman Mike Bonin, who took Rosendahl’s place on the council and who recently visited the Venice Neighborhood Council, has indicated that he, too, will give a great deal of consideration to his neighborhood councils’ votes on issues in Council District 11.
Wolfe, a former member of the Land Use and Planning Committee, wondered if Bonin’s office could now take any of the local board’s resolutions seriously if they act in a cavalier fashion regarding the committee’s ethics training mandate.
“I’m really surprised at this because the council has a long history of being in compliance with ethics,” said Wolfe, who served for two years on the neighborhood council.
Some neighborhood councils appear to be taking ethics training more seriously in recent months. Following an Argonaut story that detailed how many Westside incumbents were not in compliance when they sought reelection during the 2012 neighborhood council elections, all have now completed the city-mandated conflict of interest course.
On March 9, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa approved a motion by vice president Mark Redick that allows the council’s president to remove a member of the council who has not passed the city’s ethics requirement after three months.
Lucks said she would ask board secretary Kristopher Valentine to provide to The Argonaut the certificates of completion of those who took the training before and after the deadline. As The Argonaut went to press, no certificates had been provided.
Venice: Members of land use committee not in compliance with ethics training
By Gary Walker