Tue, Nov

Turns Out Judges Don’t Know Any More About Neighborhood Council Elections than City Council Does


EASTSIDER-This saga goes all the way back to 2017, and abruptly ended when Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff denied the Skid Row NC Formation Committee’s election appeal, asking that the Court certify a Skid Row Neighborhood Council in favor of the SRNCFC. 

In between, there was a really ugly 4-year period that we’ll get into a bit later, but in some ways the judge’s actions made sense. After all, Superior Court judges deal with elections of all kinds, and often enough to believe in the theory that if an election is cooked, the remedy for the plaintiffs is to hold a new election. Slam, bang, next case. 

And this story is both complicated and twisted, not something judges like. 

Sad History of Fixing 

Unfortunately, the Skid Row election was not a “regular” election. This was a fix from start to finish, from the “boundary adjustment” and ending in the destruction of online ballots after rigging the entire Neighborhood Council system. Thank you, Jose Huizar. 

It started with the Council rewriting rules to eliminate the 20,000-stakeholder requirement in the NC Plan, and allowing any group to juggle boundaries and have their own toy carved out from an existing Neighborhood Council. 

To get around this impediment, Huizar created Council File 12-1681 in 2012. 

Then, he cunningly sat on it until 2015, when the Motion zipped through the system, with Huizar casting the deciding vote. Thereafter, in 2017 a Hermon Neighborhood Council was carved out from the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, containing a giant 3500 stakeholders (of whom almost 350 actually voted). 

For those interested, you can track all this in a June 2017 article I wrote here.  

Skid Row’s Election 

It is no secret that the only reason Huizar wanted to redistrict CD14 to suddenly include the downtown Skid Row corridor, was so he could get his chops on that tasty developer money -- I have written about this elsewhere, and often. Remember, before being a Councilmember, he was a real estate attorney. 

The problem for Skid Row was that the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council, which was large and very well-funded by developers, also included Skid Row. This group wanted no part of any of this because they knew the larger well-heeled group could crush their small faction as real estate prices downtown soared.  

In fact, the Skid Row organizers had been trying to get out from under from around 2014, and it turned out that the Neighborhood Boundary Adjustment inadvertently gave them an opportunity to file for a separate Neighborhood Council from DLANC.

They did so, and in early 2017, about the time Hermon was getting their “special deal,” DONE was forced to call for an election for Skid Row as well.  

Sad History of Fixing: Online Voting in Skid Row 

To insulate the politicians (including the Mayor) from any liability over playing with boundaries, they pushed the process down on BONC, a singularly inappropriate agency totally controlled by the Mayor.  It did, however, protect the elected officials from the dirty deeds they were doing behind the scenes, although it didn’t do much for the troops. 

As I wrote at the time: 

In January 2017, DONE (Department of Neighborhood Empowerment) sent the formation committee the approval and a notice calling for an election, with the unprecedented language that their election “may also include online voting.” We already knew the establishment of DLANC and HCNC (Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council) were well funded to take them out when their front group, United Downtown, or Unite DTLA, was represented by former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s law firm.  

You can guess the outcome; the allegations against Jose Huizar are no joke. As General Jeff wrote at the time: 

Said article quoted Rick Coca, City Councilmember Jose Huizar’s spokesperson, who referred to City Council file 15-1022(S)(2) (an amendment to CF 15-1022) which in and of itself is a motion to temporarily ban ALL online voting for NC elections citywide. Anyone familiar with this motion knows the City’s embarrassing rollout of its online voting pilot project related to the horrendous events connected to the 2016 Studio City NC election which led to the creation of said amended motion to begin with. 

This amendment allows for the reinstatement of online voting pending a favorable report back from Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and approval by the full City Council.” 

Appropriately, his article was entitled, “LA Councilman Huizar, Staff Admit to Their Roll in ‘Killing’ Skid Row Neighborhood Council,” and you can find it here.  

The Lawsuit 

The lawsuit to set aside the City’s election decision asked the Court to simply certify the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee, on the grounds that it would be impossible to obtain a fair election from LA City. I wrote about this in August of 2018:  

“The substance of the suit is that the City colluded with DONE and the Downtown Neighborhood Council (the business umbrella NC for downtown), as well as its lobbyists, to rig the Skid Row election and guarantee failure. Why? How about ‘clearing the streets for more profitable development and the 2028 Olympic Games.’  

As further evidence, the lawsuit asserts that a core reason for the City’s abysmal failure to actually do anything with the $1.2 billion homeless Bond measure HHH, was so the cops could go in and “unconstitutionally criminalize and force institutionalize the Los Angeles homeless population.” WOW.  This is big cheese. Think Chinatown, with its layers of corruption, deceit, and evil intent. Where is Jack Nicholson when we need him?” 

And if you have any idea that the City was on the up and up, Grayce Liu gave the lie in her testimony and report to the City Council Committee dealing with Neighborhood Councils. Required to report back to BONC about online voting in the aftermath of the Skid Row election debacle, Grayce Liu proudly declared online voting a wonderful success. You can find her 14-page cover-up here 

The Takeaway 

If you read the 7-page final decision by. . . it is clear he wants nothing to do with this mess. And I doubt that an appeal would be welcomed by an appellate system that has no interest in unearthing and understanding the inherent racism, discrimination, self-dealing, and sleazy tactics choreographed by Jose Huizar. What a can of worms! 

There is only one practical solution to the issue of all Neighborhood Council elections, and that is to take the process out of DONE/BONC, and the City Clerk. The annals of CityWatch is full of horror stories about a panoply of missteps and bad outcomes. The system is rigged, as in, the Mayor’s appointment of everyone on BONC and the General Manager of DONE. 

Implicit is our system of elections is the idea of fair and impartial, as people across the country are currently experiencing. The solution is simple.  Have all Neighborhood Council elections, start to finish, run by an outside and independent third party. 

In a long career in labor relations, I have participated and/or run somewhere in excess of 1000 certification/desertification elections, with very few winding up in any kind of litigation. It is not rocket science. 

I can only hope that David Ryu’s Committee would be willing to act, after and assuming that he is re-elected. Who knows? With Huizar gone and a census resulting in City Council redistricting coming up, it just might be possible. 

No legal bills, either. 


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.