WESTSIDE - Several neighborhood council elections are today, Sunday, giving residents a say in governance of their neighborhoods. Neighborhood councils provide local expertise and a voice for westside communities on important issues like homelessness, public safety, parking and land uses.
Elections are staggered throughout the year and Sunday is election day for Venice, Bel Air-Beverly Crest, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Palms, South Robertson, Venice, West Los Angeles-Sawtelle, Westchester/Playa, and Westwood.
Here are polling times and locations for each neighborhood council.
Venice Neighborhood Council Election Day Details
SUNDAY, MARCH 26th
Polls Open from 10am-6pm
Vote In-Person at the Oakwood Recreation Center
Postmark your completed Vote-by-Mail Ballot by March 26th
Click here for the VNC Voter Guide and Candidate Statements
Venice Neighborhood Council Candidate Forum Highlights
With so many candidates and important questions to cover, the VNC held candidate forums over two nights via Zoom. Roughly 80 people tuned in to watch the candidates answer questions from moderator Nick Antonicello, a longtime Venetian and VNC participant who currently serves on both the Outreach and Oceanfront Walk committees.
Wednesday night's forum featured candidates for President, Outreach Chair and Land Use & Planning Chair. On Thursday, candidates for Vice President, Treasurer and Communications Officer went before the public. Both nights opened with about half of the 33 candidates for at-large community officer having their say.
Brian Averill was the first candidate for President to give an opening statement, and he began by saying he'd lived in Venice for about 10 years, on a Boardwalk-adjacent walk street, about two blocks from the Venice Bridge Housing facility. "I am a professional photographer and director," he said. "I've served on the VNC board and I currently serve on the Ocean Front Walk and Outreach committees of the VNC and am the founding board member of Venice Surfing Association. We've been around for almost a year and we have about 450 members. And then on a community level I am a board member of the Venice Boardwalk Action Committee. We wrote the proposal that was used by the city of LA to move the tents off the Boardwalk in 2020."
Daffodil Tyminski, the other Presidential candidate, pointed out that she also lives just a few blocks from Bridge Housing, "and so I think Brian and I have some shared experiences there. By trade, I'm an attorney. I've been a lawyer for about 25 years. And during that time, I've worked largely as a litigator and as a corporate attorney, also as a public prosecutor and local prosecutor. I spent a lot of my career volunteering and working in and with law enforcement. I first became involved with the VNC in about 2008, when we first started to see RVs pop up on near my street. I ended up running for the VNC and became the Chair of the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. I became Vice President 2021, and now I'm looking to serve as President."
In response to a question regarding homelessness, crime and what the VNC can do to mitigate them, Averill stated, "Everyone needs to remember that this is an advisory council so we're not legislating and passing any legislation. So the way I see us is we're crafting advice to pass up to Traci [Park's] office, and the Mayor's office and the LAPD. We're listening to the people here and trying to come up with something that's reasonable." Tyminski responded, "I think the number one thing the VNC can do is community organize. We've had a situation for the last several years where our community was very divided by our council person. So I think that by organizing the community behind our council person and behind LAPD we can make great strides in our community where we are supporting her vis a vis her role with the rest of the council, where she actually has an uphill battle fighting to be able to improve the community."
Both Presidential candidates also stated their opposition to the Venice median project, and both are eager to return to in-person meetings. In terms of building consensus, Averill said that, if elected, he would make a point of having lunch with every other elected member, in order to "figure out where they're coming from, what their strengths and their weaknesses are, what their goals are, what they want to get accomplished." Tyminski pointed out that having the VNC elections months before the new Board is sworn in "is giving us a great advantage because we will have three months to all get to know each other and to build consensus without violating the Brown Act, which is something that has really inhibited the previous board and being able to ever do we've never been able to do a retreat."
Vice Presidential candidates Vicki Halliday and Jim Robb were interviewed the following night. Halliday is running on a slate with Tyminski because, as she put it "we make a great team". Robb supports Averill's candidacy, and noted that the two have worked together for several years on the Ocean Front Walk Committee.
Halliday is currently serving as VNC Director of Communications, and said she was motivated to run for Vice President after observing how George Francisco served in that position during his tenure as VP. Should she be elected VP, she hopes to help committees to draft better motions, as well as strengthen neighborhood involvement in her capacity as Chair of the Neighborhood Committee. The one thing she wants stakeholders to know about her, she told Antonicello, was that, "regardless of my personal beliefs, I try to be fair."
Robb, likewise, hopes to broaden the VNC's reach should he be elected, stating the position is "all about hearing different viewpoints and trying to coordinate the different neighborhoods and relay their concerns to the President." Robb is a self-described "liquor salesman by trade" who has lived in Venice since 1986 and says he "gets along with everybody".
Sima Kostovetsky was the only candidate running for re-election for Outreach Chair to participate in the forum. She spoke of her three and a half years in that position, her experience in event planning and PR, and her eagerness to return to in-person Outreach meetings. "I want to bring people in who have different ideas," she told Antonicello. "I want to be able to share in the knowledge that our community has. We have such an incredibly creative, eclectic group of stakeholders."
Nico Ruderman, who is running unopposed for Communications Director, also had a solo interview with Antonicello, telling him that he was excited to take over the position from Vicki Halliday, and use technology to broaden VNC participation beyond the current 2 1/2% of stakeholders. He feels that "virtual involvement [in VNC meetings] has been great but also want in person meetings. I would like to see a well-thought-out out hybrid model, and if need be, I'll lobby for it."
Land Use and Planning
Wednesday night's most contentious discussion was between the candidates for LUPC Chair -- current LUPC Chair Michael Jensen and Gabriel Smith, a self-described fifth generation Venetian "concerned with over densification overcrowding, lack of parking, lack of mobility, and just a deteriorating quality of life."
Although Jensen is not an architect, he has been on the VNC LUPC since 2016. He said his background as an attorney, dealing with regulatory compliance, was helpful when it came to dealing with the numerous governmental, legal and technical issues surrounding land use. Smith was formerly a licensed real estate agent, but feels that his determination to clamp down on massive new developments is more important than technical expertise. "I find myself now studying like a college student trying to get caught up with a lot of this legislation," he told Antonicello. "And I'm doing a pretty fast job. However, there's going to be a lot to learn. I recognize that and so I can just say I'm very capable man and fast learner and I'll be sure to be an expert in time should I be elected."
In response to a question about his take on the Venice Specific Plan, Jensen noted that it is "Venice's local constitution for development" and said, "It's currently in the process of being updated by city planning. That's a process that is going to involve both the city working through making its changes and then bringing that forward with an implementation plan to be approved by the Coastal Commission…Right now we don't actually have that being approved by the Coastal Commission, which is why development in Venice is sort of this very Byzantine process of going through first the city and then the Coastal Commission. It's 20 years old, and there's room for it to be improved upon."
In response to a question regarding his opinion of upzoning, Smith said, "It sounds like…where you have ground floor commercial development and above that skyrises. I'm not for it. As you just heard me say I don't want to raise height restrictions. I'm very comfortable -- and I think that the community is -- with where height restrictions currently stand. I know that my opponent has already voted to lift height restrictions on sites and intends to continue to do so. I hope to stop this."
Jensen responded, "If you look around, a lot of the buildings that are on the boardwalk are large apartment buildings that were built at a time where there weren't a height restrictions. Then we started to implement stricter development standards through the 1900s and culminating in the late 80s, early 90s. Venice really got downzoned into predominantly single family neighborhoods. And so when we talk about zoning, I think we have to sort of look at look at it contextually and say, you know, do we want to restore those old standards or are we trying to create suburbia?"
Thursday night's most contentious conversation was among the candidates for Treasurer: Current VNC treasurer Jay Handal, Budget & Finance Committee member Helen Fallon and Venice businessman (and first time candidate) Eric Hartnack.
Handal, the owner of ERBA cannabis stores, an $80 million business for which he handles the finances, introduced himself as having "come on board [the VNC] in 2020, cleaned up outstanding issues and created a document for stakeholders to see how funds are spent. A vote for me is a vote for honesty, transparency, civility." Later, he noted that, under his guidance " [the VNC] actually have everything under the Budget Committee [page on the VNC website], where you can click on documents or reports and it will show you every single expenditure category paid from when we started and what our balances and what we could end up with at the end of the year." Handal has been involved in the Neighborhood Council System for decades, is also the Treasurer of the Sawtelle Neighborhood Council and a past President of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates.
Fallon, who has worked as a bookkeeper and controller for more than 35 years, disagreed with Handal's assessment of his performance. "What is not happening is our current treasurer does not reconcile monthly to the monthly expenditure report, which are not arriving or are arriving late because of delays created by people who don't turn the receipts on time. So we're frequently looking at these bank records without a bank statement… Our board does not see the invoices before they vote, and those invoices are not available in the public dashboard…So it's incomplete." In addition to strict adherence to budget regulations, Fallon said she would also focus on saving money. Both she and Hartnack, when asked how they felt about the VNC paying to use the auditorium at Westminster Elementary School for meetings, said they would rather hold the meetings at either Oakwood or Penmar Recreation Center, in order to save on funding. By contrast, Handal said the Treasurer's role was to facilitate expenditures by ensuring that City regulations are followed, rather than controlling them.
Hartnack was particularly concerned with the lack of transparency over how the VNC uses its funds, and suggested an accounting of those funds "is not readily available as far as most of us are concerned. I think that we need to do an outreach program, where we're proactively communicating with the stakeholders of Venice and letting them know exactly what's going on."
The candidates for at-large community officer and community interest officer introduced themselves at the start of each evening with minute-long statements, followed by three questions from Antonicello. Interviewed Thursday night, Steve Bradbury, who lives on the Marina Penninsula, said he was motivated to run by a lack of voter representation on the VNC Board. Currently only 1 of 21 board members live south of Washington Blvd, as he does, although they constitute 20% of Venice stakeholders. Bradbury's call to change the VNC's election rules to guarantee a representative from each Venice neighborhood resonated with some of his fellow at-large candidates, including Eric Donaldson, who is running for Community Interest Officer. Robert Thibodeaux, a local architect and self-described moderate, on the other hand, cautioned that such an approach might make it difficult for some good candidates to get elected. Other candidates interviewed Thursday night included Lisa Redmond, a RAND employee who volunteers with the homeless and has live in Venice for decades; Meredith Gruszka, who is new to Venice but has worked here for years as an agent for Tami Pardee realtors; Soledad Ursua, a self-described Libertarian who has lived in Venice for 7 years and served as on the VNC for three, and, in the final group, Jim Murez, the current VNC President and Yolanda Gonzalez, both of whom who've served on the VNC since it was first established.
Public Safety & Homelessness
On Wednesday, in response to a question about what the VNC could do to help solve the public safety and homelessness crisis, most candidates agreed with Antonicello's assessment that these were, indeed, the top issues of public concern in Venice, but their approaches varied. Christopher Lee, who currently serves on the Outreach Committee and organizes Venice Beach Cleanups, stated that it was first necessary to tackle the root causes of homelessness before offering housing. Clark Brown, a current member of the VNC Board who has lived in Venice for several decades, has been lobbying for safe camping sites and tiny homes. Chie Lunn feels that homelessness and crime are "two separate issues" and has zero tolerance for crime while pointing to the current fentanyl crisis when it comes to homelessness. Jill Crosby, who has been working with the sober community for decades, concurred, as did Ally Bean, who has worked with Andy Bales at the Union Rescue Mission to get people off the street, and Deborah Keaton, who for a time had a huge encampment across from her home. Erica Moore decried the lack of affordable housing in Venice and cited the elimination of RSO housing. Jason Sugars spoke of disunity and a lack of compassion in the form of "lots of lip service" being paid to the crisis, but not a lot done.
The candidate forums can be viewed in their entirety on YouTube here and here. In person voting is this Sunday, March 26, at the Oakwood Recreation Center, from 10am to 6pm. For more about how to vote, see: www.venicenc.org.
About Neighborhood Councils:
Los Angeles' 99 Neighborhood Councils are the backbone of the city's grassroots government. Established in 1999 through an amendment to the City Charter, the system connects LA's diverse communities to City Hall. Although Neighborhood Council board members are volunteers, they are public officials elected by their communities.
The Neighborhood Council system is designed to cater to LA's various communities, ensuring that the city's governance recognizes and accommodates their diversity. As a result, each Council is unique, with its own board structure that represents the stakeholders it serves, ranging from renters to equestrians to internal districts. Board sizes range from 7 to 35 members, and most serve two-year terms.
Neighborhood Councils advocate for crucial issues such as homelessness, housing, emergency preparedness, public safety, parks, transportation, and sustainability. Additionally, they provide valuable local expertise and a voice for their communities on the delivery of City services.
Each Council holds monthly meetings of their full board and committee meetings focused on specific issues or projects such as public safety, transportation, homelessness, or land use. All meetings are open to the public.
The Neighborhood Council system serves as a vital link between LA's communities and City Hall, ensuring that the city's governance reflects the needs and diversity of its people.