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City Departments Plotted to Paralyze the Venice Neighborhood Council

by Jim Smith Friday, Jan. 28, 2005 at 7:34 PM
jsmith@igc.org

Leaders of the Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council (GRVNC) have learned, through the release of public records, that several Los Angeles city departments were secretly monitoring their activities. Ultimately, members of a working group within the city government succeeded in overturning the neighborhood council’s election and rendering the GRVNC unable to function.

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Suzanne Thompson, 310-664-1142; Jim Smith, 310-399-8685

Public records release shows history of manipulation

CITY DEPARTMENT PLOTTED TO PARALYZE

THE VENICE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL

Leaders of the Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council (GRVNC) have learned, through the release of public records, that several Los Angeles city departments were secretly monitoring their activities. Ultimately, members of a working group within the city government succeeded in overturning the neighborhood council’s election and rendering the GRVNC unable to function.

“Venice has gone rouge...” declared a Dept. of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) staff member while asking the League of Women Voters not to assist in the GRVNC election. A Human Relations Commission member warned against allowing neighborhood councils too much latitude: “Expecting the NC’s to develop their own procedures, or to develop a city-wide procedure is too risky...”

The documents, obtained through a public records request by Venice resident John Davis in December, reveal that DONE convinced the GRVNC Board to submit a challenge of its June 2004 election to an arbitrator that DONE knew was biased against the council. In addition, one email (Exhibit G) is from a DONE official to the arbitrator, suggesting to him how he should frame his decision. GRVNC was offered no such access to the arbitrator.

Davis requested the public records after he and eight other elected GRVNC Board members were put out of office in November. Davis said he was surprised by the number of people and city departments that had been involved in monitoring GRVNC: “Even the Mayor’s office and the local city council office (CD11) appear on the email list discussing what to do to the certified neighborhood council. Why they never contacted GRVNC is still a mystery,”

Other community leaders displaced by the arbitrator’s decision, which was held by DONE for a week before being released on Nov. 16, include: DeDe McCrary, Bridget Graham, Emily Winters, Dr. Alice Stek, Zoe Garaway, Deborah Krall, Michael McGuffin and Dennis Hathaway. DONE, acting on its own, also refused to recognize four additional Board appointees – Francisco Letelier, Inge Mueller, Kristen Weirick and Don Geagan. By eliminating the four, who had been functioning for several months, DONE rendered the Board unable to achieve a quorum.

The documents also show that the arbitrator, Gary de la Rosa of the Human Relations Commission (HRC), was deeply involved in GRVNC affairs even before the June election. He and others apparently believed allegations by anti-GRVNC activists in Venice that the Board was fostering an atmosphere of racism against whites. There was no attempt by DONE or any other city officials to contact any officers of the GRVNC about the allegations. GRVNC was unaware that it was the topic of discussion and derision by the city officials, whose email list included LAPD officers; deputy city attorneys; an aide to Councilmember Cindy Miscikowski; and a Venice resident, Rick Feibusch, a resident who was hostile to the GRVNC; in addition to DONE and HRC.

The neighborhood council is prohibited from functioning officially due to the arbitration, but GRVNC officers are calling for the arbitrator’s decision to be thrown out because of bias, and are appealing to the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC) about the interference of the DONE staff which are under its jurisdiction.

In the past year, the GRVNC Board had taken strong positions against Playa Vista and LAX expansion; joined with artists in opposing a new Ocean Front Walk ordinance promoted by the city; and advocated for 24-hour restrooms on the beach that could be used by the homeless and others.

Documents referenced above are posted at: www.freevenice.org/Public_Records.pdf

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