Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa received an earful from several of his Westside constituents Sept. 12 at a town hall meeting in West Los Angeles organized by the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils.
The organization, which is comprised of 13 neighborhood councils of the Westside, including Mar Vista, Venice, Westchester-Playa and Del Rey, had hoped to hear from the mayor earlier this year but the meeting was unable to take place due to scheduling conflicts.
The Westside audience warmly received Villaraigosa, who is in his second and final term as mayor. For the better part of an hour, he fielded questions on education, city services, transportation and homelessness.
Ivan Spiegel, the parliamentarian for the Venice Neighborhood Council, asked the mayor to respond to what is slowly becoming a heated topic of discussion among neighborhood councils and their supporters: a proposal to postpone the elections of local councils until 2014.
Neighborhood councils currently hold elections every two years and the next one is due in 2012.
“This year, you asked for a 10-percent cut in neighborhood council funds to share the pain,” Spiegel began. “The City Council turned around and then decided to cancel the elections for 2012 and they’re in the process of having the city attorney draft an ordinance to officially cancel them, in order to save money.”
The suggestion to postpone the elections as a cost saving measure was first posited publicly at a Board of Neighborhood Commissioners meeting in Del Rey March 1.
“This ordinance is going to come before you for your signature when it comes out. Will you be willing to veto this and allow grassroots democracy to come back to the city?” Spiegel asked.
Villaraigosa responded quickly to the question. “Let me go on record by saying I believe that we should have an election,” he said. “I’ll weigh in now and let them know that I don’t like that idea and that they’ve got to give me something else,” the mayor added to applause from the audience.
Westchester resident Denny Schneider asked Villaraigosa what he could do to help bring another stop in Westchester to the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor light rail line. There will be a stop at Aviation and Century boulevards, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not including an optional station at Aviation and Manchester Avenue.
“We have all of the impacts of the repair station, the train going through the community and there’s no stop,” Schneider said. “(Metro’s) not even bidding on the optional station… we need your help.”
Like other MTA officials, Villaraigosa said building additional stations not included in a rail line’s budget was difficult due to financial constraints.
Venice resident Dennis Hathaway asked the mayor for his thoughts on a potential change in the city’s sign ordinance that could allow private companies to erect outdoor signs in public parks, including on Venice Beach. Hathaway, like Spiegel, had previously asked Villaraigosa what he would do if the ordinance was passed by the City Council.
“If this ordinance reaches your desk, will you not sign it if it does not substantially conform with what your appointees on the city’s Planning Commission want?” Hathaway asked.
Unlike with Spiegel’s question, the mayor proceeded with more caution.
“I can’t say to you right now if I agree with them or disagree with them. I haven’t seen the details of what they have passed,” he said. “I don’t have enough specifics to weigh in on it.”
Hathaway was surprised by Villaraigosa’s response to his question. “I found his ignorance disturbing and quite frankly, appalling,” he asserted. “The proliferation of signs is a very important matter to many people in the city, especially on the Westside.”
Hathaway, who has been one of the city’s most outspoken advocates of limiting billboards and other outdoor signage throughout the city, noted that there have been several public hearings on the possible changes to the sign law as well as intense media scrutiny.
“I find it appalling that the mayor of this city would express ignorance of the sign ordinance,” he reiterated. “If a new ordinance passes, it’s going to end up on his desk, so I think it’s incumbent that he know what’s in it.”
Carolyn Rios, the vice president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, asked the mayor to come to the Venice Beach Boardwalk to see what her community sees virtually every night: dozens of homeless, including children, often sleeping in doorways.
In his response to Rios, Villaraigosa drew comparisons between his record on providing shelter with former mayors Richard Riordan and James Hahn. “In six years since I’ve been mayor, we’ve done 1,700 units of permanent supportive housing for the homeless,” he said. “In the 12 years before that, we did 726.”
The mayor added that homelessness is a national problem and cities are limited in what they can do to curb this social ill. “It’s not just a city or county problem,” he said.
Sherri Akers, the co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Green Committee, sensed that environmental issues might not be front and center, so she and others from Mar Vista instead focused on making the event a waste-free meeting.
“With so much concern about jobs, the economy and service cutbacks due to the city budget, we sort of knew going in that environmental issues would not be on the front burner. We realized that we could make a stronger statement with our actions,” Akers said.
She gave credit to fellow Mar Vista resident Christopher McKinnon for responding to the invitation by the organizers of the event by asking if they would support the mayor’s green initiatives by providing recycling and not offering water in plastic bottles, to which they agreed.
“It was a great example of everyone working together. Something that at first glance seemed like a big deal was executed flawlessly,” Akers said. “I hope many were inspired.”
Jeanne Kuntz, another member of the Green Committee, thanked the regional council organization for what she called its sensitivity to the environment.
“I, for one, greatly appreciated their thoughtfulness,” she said. “It was a pleasure to look around the room and see people holding recyclable paper cups rather than single-use plastic water bottles.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Council District 11 and all of the neighborhood boards in the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils, believes Villaraigosa benefited from coming to listen to the district’s constituents.
“It’s always great to have the mayor come to the Westside,” he said. “This way, he can hear firsthand what my constituents and I are dealing with on a daily basis.”
Rosendahl said he hoped to get Villaraigosa to the Westside again next year.