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One incumbent ousted, new faces added to Neighborhood Council

Most of the longtimers on the Studio City Neighborhood Council remained on board after Thursday afternoon’s election, and a few new faces were voted onto the Council in part because of the Save Coldwater Canyon activist group that formed to stop the Harvard-Westlake parking structure proposal.

Lisa Cahan Davis adds info sheets outside the polling place. Photos of the Studio City Neighborhood Council, and the voting.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner
Neighborhood Council meetings had some close votes.
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner

Brandon D. Pender, a recent appointee who helped on one of the most successful Night Out events in L.A.’s history last year, was out-voted for the Employee/ Independent Contractor Seat by two newcomers Alex Izbicki and Lawrence Beer, who both spoke against the Harvard-Westlake expansion.

(By the way, I was a pollworker and was at the polls for the entire voting period. It was a great way to see many friends in the community, and also give some of the insight into the voting.)

Many people came in specifically asking to vote for Brandon Pender, just as many people came in to vote for “Save Coldwater Canyon” (which was not a vote on the ballot).

What most people were unaware of, is that you could only vote in categories you were eligible to vote in (seven in all, very color-coordinated). That process kept people from voting in all categories. This council approved the “honesty” procedure, so that if you said you were a Residential Homeowner or a Renter or an Employee, we didn’t have to verify it, but they did require that every person fill out a registration form.

So, people who said they were an Employee, for example, of Harvard-Westlake School were allowed to vote only in the Employee category (and that did not seem to affect the election.)

There were issues about the Service Organization category because at the Council meeting the night before, the Council rejected adding Save Coldwater Canyon (savecoldwatercanyon.com) to the list of approved community groups. As a pollworker, there were mentions of other major omissions, such as the Village Gardeners (www.thevillagegardeners.org) (which helped put on a nice free-tree giving event along the river), Save L.A. River Open Space (savelariveropenspace.org) and UPARS (The UFO & Paranormal Research Society that meets at the Unitarian Church once a month with about 80 people—more than an average Council meeting.) The list is usually updated once a year, and it was too late to add new names before the election is what the council decided.

Frankly, many of the people who said they were there for Save Coldwater Canyon could also find another group on the list that they were also affiliated with: they have a child going to one of the local schools, they are member of a church or temple, they help with the animal adoptions or are a member of the Studio City Residents Association.

When the voters were first asked if they were involved in a Service Organization, they answered “No” until they reviewed the list and realized they were a part of one of the groups.

However, nothing changed in that category, where longtime members Remy Kessler and Richard Niederberg have the two seats on the Council in Service Organizations. Richard Adams, who was their sole challenger, drew 81 votes while Kessler got 133 and Niederberg got 165 votes.

The two voters who insisted on voting as Save Coldwater Canyon members and were eligible for a total of five categories received Provisional Ballots that can be counted if there is a resolution with the city Department of Neighborhood Empowerment over their eligibility.

The only race that could possibly impact in is the Business Representative category where incumbents Rita Clare Villa (61 votes) and Scott Ouellette (60) easily stayed on while newcomer Steve Quat received 41 votes and got on the board beating Sako Karakozian with 39. If those two provisional ballots were for this category (and I don’t know that they were) and they were for Karakozian, it could throw that race for the third spot into a tie.

The Residential Renters category was the most crowded category, and incumbents Brian Mahoney (34 votes), Lana Shackelford (32) and Jane Drucker (32) won handily while the other four challengers barely mustered half that each. (At least two of the voters were turned away to vote in this category because they were renters in nearby Valley Village and were at the wrong election site.)

The Homeowners seats went to all incumbents, including president John Walker (138), vice president Lisa Sarkin (164), Gail Steinberg (170) and Denise Welvang (127). Seraphine Segal dropped out of the race but too late to be taken off the ballot and received 37 votes while Howard Gillingham received 12 votes.

Gillingham also issued a challenge to the entire election that was filed with DONE which claimed that an improper flyer and mailer with the incumbents on it was creating “ambiguity as to whether SCNC resources were used, no matter how inadvertently, to prepare, mail or distribute the bulletin e.g. were mailing SCNC mailing lists used.” (SCNC members said that no council funds were used, and that flyers were properly distributed.)

Gilligham’s complaint continues: “The Bulletin is to put all candidates, including this challenger, at a distinct electoral disadvantage. Note: I use my additional words here to supplement the remedy section below. I do not know if there is an easy remedy to this problem. Assuming without knowing, there has been wide distribution of the bulletin, damage is done and curing it is difficult. The solution needs to be the product of wiser heads than me, though I do have a go at it below. This is a mess.”

His remedy is to hold the elections again.

Two unopposed races included Lisa Cahan Davis for the At-Large seat (306) and Youth Seat Jon K. Epstein (4). Cahan Davis’s race only had 50 ballots and every voter could get an At-Large ballot, so one of the pollworkers had to run out to print up many more pink copies of the ballots. The Youth Seat could only be voted on by those stakeholders who were 15 to 18 and that is significant, because last election the Youth member ran unopposed, but didn’t vote for himself and therefore received no votes and wasn’t elected onto the Board.

“I wasn’t going to let that happen to me,” young Epstein said, who was voting along with his mother (who couldn’t vote directly for him, but is owner of Vitello’s Restaurant).

It was nice to see familiar faces such as Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, actors Mike Farrell and Shelley Fabares, many realtors, business owners and fellow church members at the polls. Working the polls is like being a greeter at a community party, and it truly was a lot of fun.

It wasn’t the largest turnout for Studio City, but the total of 367 voters was far more than 2012 of 292 voters. There were 1,007 ballots of the various categories to count.

(On a personal note: Although it’s tough to get people to volunteer for this, the polls were only four hours long rather than last time’s six hours, and those two extra hours for example would have allowed teachers at the school, and parents picking up their kids, to come in to the voting booth. There were at least half a dozen people who came at 2 p.m. and said they could not return to vote later. Also, the ballot process is complicated, and people often didn’t know what to do with their many papers. People seemed surprised and dismayed that we took the voters “at their word” about their eligibility for the various categories, but it seemed that most were honest and a verification process would have been prohibitive and ridiculous.)

The vote itself seemed fair, and there are some new faces on board, and you don’t have to be elected on to be involved: go to studiocitync.org or come by the Studio City CBS Radford lot on the third Wednesday of every month.