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Classy Move: Councilman Evicts Neighborhood Council … Because He Can

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MY TURN--What a difference five days make!  My last article extolled the virtues of the Neighborhood Councils (NC) and summarized  the overwhelming support  stated publicly from many of our elected officials at the recent Neighborhood Congress. 

Obviously Council Member Felipe Fuentes didn't get the memo … since he wasn't in attendance at the Neighborhood Congress and obviously didn't read my article.  As a token of his appreciation he gave Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council an eviction notice on Monday.    

The reason for the eviction isn’t totally clear … and, it’s even murkier since the Councilman’s office has refused to provide their perspective on the booting. 

I have heard various complaints about Councilmember Fuentes from stakeholders but its great sport to pick on our politicians.  It goes with the territory.  Apparently neither he nor his staff like to return phone calls … especially from NC board members.  I queried his office for a statement on his reasons for the eviction and the "gate keepers" wanted everything but my birth certificate.  

Needless to say I did not get a response. 

About one third of the City Council members would prefer to see the Neighborhood Councils disappear altogether.  They must find it disconcerting that this unpaid group knows as much about how our city works. And, neighborhood councils have such diverse backgrounds … from zoning expertise to legal issues and everything in between. Their knowledge is encyclopedic. 

Anyway, this less than professional action by Fuentes and company feels a lot like payback. According to Mark Seigel, president of the Sunland Tujunga NC, a meeting was held with Councilmember Felipe Fuentes for the purpose of updating him on NC projects and to discuss ways the Council could work more closely with the Fuentes District 7 office. 

The Councilman had his own agenda, however. He wanted to discuss the new tenants scheduled to join the STNC in sharing the use of the building. He also wanted STNC to enter into a lease agreement. It was also implied that the other tenants would now be paying rent and as a result, rent would now be expected of the neighborhood council. Seigel was also told that community member Facebook pages were being monitored by the Councilman and his staff and that he had noticed several people hated the NC. 

Back story: October 12, 2004 

Sharing agreement established with then Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for the STNC to use this Sunland-Tujunga Field Office.  The agreement includes a small office in the building and the community facilities for stakeholder and committee meetings. 

Fast forward eleven years later.  September 28, 2015 

STNC President Seigel was called by Council Member Felipe Fuentes and told that the North Valley City Hall building (Sunland - Tujunga field office) was being re-keyed on October 15th and that he was kicking the STNC out of the office and would no longer allow any STNC Committee Meetings to be held in the Building.  They could not enter the offices unless his staff approved.  They could hold the monthly stakeholder and Board meetings in the community facilities. 

When asked the reason, Fuentes referred them to two council motions that gave him permission to lease space to two 501C3 non profits in the ‘VACANT’ space.  When STNC asked one of the tenants to be if they had been shown the STNC office ... they replied "no". 

In an email between the prospective  new tenant, Los Angeles Family Housing, Stephanie Klasky-Gamer and STNC Secretary, Cindy Cleghorn, it clearly states that   "We understood that those offices were not used by anyone, and after touring the vacant offices, we began negotiating our lease agreement." 

The reason for re-keying the building was  "there were too many keys out."  STNC has two keys which they signed for complete with official ID and are responsible for.  Who else has keys is not their responsibility. 

Notice both council files refer to "Vacant" space.  Imagine your discomfort if your landlord gave you two weeks notice-for coming and going and said that you had to be out within 60 days. 

I will not go into all the back and forth details because it sounds like making a big deal out of a minor situation.  But it is really not minor.  The NC's are given $37,500 each to pay for all their activities and overhead.  Most try to spend the money on community events and projects and really make do with overhead.  It seems stupid at best for one City office to charge another City office rent when the space belongs to the City and not the individual Councilman. 

Terrence Gomes, Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) has asked the General Services department to see what vacancies the City has and to ask CC President Herb Wesson  to allow all NC's to occupy the vacant space at no charge.  After all both he and the Mayor have expressed their appreciation of the non-paid elected City officials.  Here is a chance to validate the appreciation. 

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I have my own ideas on why Fuentes is picking on STNC and possibly other NC's in his area.  The North San Fernando Valley has put up arguments against some of the development that supporters of Fuentes want.  Many individuals also supported and worked for the election of Assembly member Patty Lopez against Fuentes crony Raul Bocanegra who was destined to become Speaker of the State Assembly. 

These same  stakeholders have also supported the Assemblywoman against a recall that was started two weeks after she took office.  Elections are coming up next year.   Rumor has it Bocanegra is running again. 

I could be wrong. This could just be "housekeeping" and getting additional money into the City coffers from groups willing to sign a lease and pay rent. But there is one thing for which there can be no disagreement, the Councilman could have shown more respect for volunteers dedicated to serving our city. A little class from a politician is always a win-win move. 

I don't know about all of you, but I get so disheartened by all of the ugly stuff coming out of our federal and local governments.  We put our trust in these people to do the right thing for us their constituents. City or country and every day we hear about another screw-up.  I sometimes feel like Dona Quixote fighting windmills. 

As always comments welcome …

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist.  She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 80

Pub: Oct 2, 2015

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