MY TURN-There was a lot of optimism on November 9, 2019, as dozens of candidates diligently filed paperwork and took historic pictures or videos as they kicked off campaigns to save the City.
The field of 2020 LA City election candidates had been invited to Piper Tech, an enormous loading dock near Union Station to collect fresh stacks of signature petitions for the March 3, 2020 ballot.
Each of the100 three-paged petitions that are explained in thirteen languages has room for twenty signatures, so if a candidate is so inclined, they could gather and submit up to 2000 signatures in toto.
That's nothing for the Khive but for a lot of us that's too heavy a lift. It's like "purchasing a car outright" on an entry level salary. There must be another plan.
There is a more attainable option: If you plunk down 500 valid signatures and pay a $300 processing fee, the City Clerk will stick you on the ballot. It works. I've done it more than once.
And for those who were worried: How are we going to continue the signature madness post-pandemic?
It's a reasonable question. Who wants to handle another person's pen? I guess the people behind the Governor Newsom recall effort did.
Or maybe two million of them, brought their own pens. The final petition signature count has yet to be released and I read that a campaign to remove signatures from the recall petition is underway. State law provides a month for opponents to do that.
That seems like a lot of "Due Process". . .let's keep that down low, as we don't want to provoke a relapse in Judge Beckloff.
Get well soon, Sir.
I'm a natural giver and thought it would be appropriate to share what I've learned out on the trail. Literally, as most of my gathering was done in the parking lot near a beloved hike up Fryman Canyon in Studio City.
I tried to tell the LA Times editorial board all about my adventures, but they were simply under too much time pressure working up their legendary comprehensive voting crib sheet on dozens of judge seats (who only require 20 signatures to get on the ballot.) Hearing from pathetic challengers like me and 35% of the citywide candidates who also didn't make it, was simply not an option in 2020.
In theory a candidate should aim well above 500 because inevitably a number of signatures gathered will come from perfectly nice residents who for one reason or another do not qualify. For instance, a signer who misread the map and lives just outside the district boundary or a current resident of North Hollywood, who is still registered at a family home in Canoga Park.
Or (eyes narrowing) my college roommate and his wife who have lived and voted in the area for decades. . .(eyes narrowing) or my friends' daughter who dutifully registered via DMV, was eligible, but nonetheless tossed. (eyes narrowing) Or a Republican who'd been in her same house for twenty years but was dropped from the rolls for missing a few elections.
The candidates should make every effort to zero in on good ones, but inevitably a few bad ones slip through.
CD2 is home to roughly 260,065 Angelenos and 96,059 households. They generally do not line up to sign petitions but will cue up for Harvard Westlake games and In-N-Out Burgers.
Council District 2 [CD2] includes the communities of North Hollywood, Studio City, Sun Valley, Valley Glen, Valley Village and Van Nuys. Generally, it does not include Sherman Oaks or Toluca Lake but both the east and west side of CD2 contain triangular cut-outs to the west and east that cause a gatherer to do a lot of double-checking.
The assumption that people want to sign for a candidate that they may never have heard of by affixing their signature to a document including a line for name, address, birthday* and today's date, is optimistic.
Here's one approach:
"Greetings, Hi. I'm Eric Preven, a Studio City resident."
"I live nearby/above Carpenter Avenue School on Reklaw drive."
"We're having a city election coming up in March" [I draw attention by putting my finger on the petition where it says City Council]
"This is a petition for me. . .I'm the candidate, Eric Preven" [I slide my finger over to my name]
"And I'm gathering signatures from people who live and vote in this area, this general area. . ." [I slide my hand down the signatures and then flip, like Vanna White, my clipboard which has a map of the district on the back.]
"So, if you live and vote in this area. . .which means your registered in [I allow time to review the map and say out loud] Studio City, Valley Village, North Hollywood, Valley Glen. . .
'This is about a choice on the ballot. It's so important. I've been on my neighborhood council and I've pressed for some low-hanging fruit ideas... I got both factions of our community to agree that a restroom, [I point to the one at Fryman] like this. . .is needed at the Metro Red Line Universal station. I mean. . .what is the expectation? "
"The point is, that that mobile pitstop initiative has been on Krekorian's desk for a year. I'm ready to turn up the heat."
The process of gathering signatures is an eye-opening experience, but not necessarily an earbud removing one.
People are busy. And cranky.
What to expect
People of all districts do not agree on much, but one thing they certainly do agree on is that the appropriate reaction to the sight of a clipboard in a person's hands is to Run!
I have witnessed a woman hike aggressively up a muddy slope to avoid an encounter with a dude trying to get her signature.
One person pivoted around a corner at Westfield mall so quickly, she nearly marched her baby carriage down the up escalator.
The most common responses.
Overwhelming excitement at not being in the district. A flush of warmth as no further action is required and yet somehow the guilt "at least they stopped to check" is lifted.
Evasive, as noted above some people will defy Vision Zero to avoid an interaction. Always look both ways.
Dismissal, mouthing "I'm good." "On the phone" (pointing at earbuds) "No thank you." Or "Not happening."
Shaming, sometimes a gatherer can be scolded for even bringing up the possibility, "I come here to escape, you asshole."
Allergic. One alumni from University of Michigan, my alma mater, surprised me with, "I don't sign. Period."
Answer: Fair enough, exclamation point!
Ignorance. "But I don't know anything about you?"
Answer: We're both democrats, and it's important that we have a choice.
Preference. One person (out of +/- 3,000 interviewed) said, "I like Krekorian."
Answer: So do I, signing provides a choice on the ballot.
Another said, "I'm a Republican."
Answer: That's fine, I'm a self-hating democrat.
In my opinion, no matter how obnoxious a possible signer might be, a candidate should never challenge their negativity.
Two can be one too many!
One afternoon, when the electors were nibbling quite nicely at Fryman Canyon, a man in a NY Yankee hat, dressed in black, drove up in a Cadillac SUV.
He was also with clipboard and passing a petition around for Ayinde Jones, an attorney with a glossy handout from Sherman Oaks. I glanced around, briefly and decided it was best to leave the location.
I saw this professional signature gatherer a second time, a day later. He tried to drill me for relevant local issues, as he's from a different neighborhood.
It's a bit like fishing, two different petition gatherers at the same spot can be unsettling. The polite thing to do is to walk off voluntarily -- so that's what I did. But this process is integral to our system of governance and though the 500-signature requirement is too high and should be changed, candidates should be given wide latitude to do this important work.
The gathering period from November 9 to December 4 includes three of the busiest shopping days of the year and it used to rain around that time, nixing at least a few days due to weather.
When I showed up at the Westfield Fashion Square mall to gather, I was quickly surrounded by security guards who took me by golf cart to their leader, Hakop, a young duty manager who had attended an LAPD event that Krekorian had blown hard at. He'd googled me while I was being voluntarily taken across the parking lot to Westfield jail, to get things straightened out.
There, as the sun set in the Valley, I regaled Hakop with stories from the trenches about how under Bob Blumenfield's esteemed leadership, Westfield had effectively cut the line at City Hall by paying robust expediting fees to DOT, Planning etc.
Hakop slapped down a first amendment application and granted me permission to gather.
If you're looking for an expensive and probably fresh cookie, named for the man himself and taken over by Ugo Mamolo in the sixties, Viktor Benes Bakery at Gelson's provides a broad assortment of European cookies.
The parking lot adjacent patio in Studio City is an ideal spot to sit, have a coffee and make eye contact with members of your community, before popping the dreaded question.
Sometimes you can spot a senior left in an idling vehicle, waiting for their caretaker to emerge with a little box of cookies.
The fact that basic grocery prices are double what some other Supermarkets charge is a winning formula for Gelson's. Some neighborhoods have food deserts, Studio City Slickers have been craving and are getting an Erewhon -- for the people who hate flying commercial.
The Alligator cake from Viktor Benes is allegedly to die for. The pecan coffee cake sells in such high numbers, it's been reported that Sheila Kuehl, the county supervisor who handles the Valley would be willing to submit an application for a federal rehab grant.
If the phrase "Alligator cake" arises in a general public comment, not noticed on an agenda, Paul Koretz the council district nudge from District 5, currently running to replace Ron Galperin as Controller, has been known to satisfy himself in committee. Forthwith!
As an upscale supermarket, Gelson’s is particular, precise and proud to deliver the best service to Studio City and 26 other locations. What they are not as keen on, is allowing candidates to disturb their shoppers by asking them to sign petitions.
At one point, I had a brainstorm: put a little pink box of cookies out with the idea that people might be inclined to come over, have an intoxicating chocolate crunchy thing and then hear my spiel and sign the damned petition.
A recent law change in Georgia, forbidding the handing out of water in elections has me and Paul Krekorian both rethinking that strategy. Krekorian spent thousands in officeholder money on Sparklett’s products before issuing his two-pronged water platform: 1) "Drink up, LA tap water has ultra-low fecal counts, according to LADWP (raise glass here) and 2) You've been warned, the criminalization of single use water bottles is coming. I agree they're a scourge, but #21AntiPlasticSlogans are friendlier.
Still, I've come to see that offering the potential electors bite size treats or collectible water bottles may not be exactly what the framers had in mind.
I'd always thought the framers wanted a vibrant debate but as my brother and I wrote in Candidates Refusing to Debate: The Unpardonable Sin of Politics, the incumbents prefer a nearly impossible ramp for challengers seeking a spot on the ballot; and the press, it turns out is not as vibrant as it once was.
If you do happen to get on the ballot, good luck getting ANY press for your candidacy. I'd be happy to elaborate on the high quality, even-handed local coverage in another very short article.
Here’s one constructive idea: The Elections division of the city should host debates with candidates sitting in the seats used by Councilmembers during televised meetings. Cameras are pre-set in that chamber, so it shouldn’t be expensive.
During my endless and ongoing feud with Gelson's over their unhelpful, grossly un-civic attitude, I was able to land a piece in the Los Angeles Daily News.
The article affirmed my commitment to democracy: "Eric Preven, who was collecting signatures at the front of the store to place his name on the ballot. . ." said that when he arrived he saw a ‘large kerfuffle’ and a woman in handcuffs sitting in the handicapped-parking area."
A "large kerfuffle" is not a Viktor Benes cookie. It was my description of a fight between a Good Samaritan (70-year-old hothead) who had torn across the parking lot and physically tackled a suspected shoplifter. He "got cut on the back" in the melee.
Nothing has been resolved with Gelson's.
Though, to fully irritate the whole franchise, I'm considering circulating a petition to block the criminalization of "idling a motor vehicle." Paul Koretz is not wrong that idling is uncool, but despite his leadership on climate and ridiculous ordinances, it's very hot in the Valley and our Alte Kakers deserve to be able to wait in the car for their Viktor Benes with the air conditioning running.
Is that so wrong? Sign here, here. . .and here!
(Eric Preven is a community activist and lives in Los Angeles. He is a CityWatch contributor. Views expressed are not necessarily those of CityWatch or CityWatch writers.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.