by Tom Topping
This year’s neighborhood council (NC) elections were the funnest and most exciting yet. With the magical addition of the competing “slates” in the Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Arroyo Seco councils, along with the “Starbuck’s Stakeholders,” voter turnout rose to meet or exceed highest levels ever, with candidates and onlookers waiting around well into the evening to get the official results.
Controversies in all cases arose out of some very ambitious folks wanting to gain control over their NC. In Eagle Rock it was the “Progress and Collaboration,” (formerly green) slate that was the brainchild of Tim Ryder and associates and his Cannabis Clubs United with the Community organization (CCUWC), a pro-marijuana dispensary slate.
In Highland Park, the “No on 710” slate of candidates, with the Glass Studio’s Cathi Milligan at the head, was formed, and for the Arroyo Seco Council, Hermon’s always controversial Joe Riser promoted his pro-Joe Riser “Back to Business” slate as well.
As in physics, every action will cause a re-action, and in local politics it is the same, as the Eagle Rock anti-medical marijuana forces led by ERNC President Michael Larsen, put together a slate of candidates called the “Eagle Rock Neighbors” slate to oppose the pro-marijuana dispensary slate.
In Highland Park the slate of current HHPNC board members with Cathi Milligan of the Glass Studio, Janet Dodson and Tricia Gosset was countered by The “Working for Highland Park” slate promoted by Paul and Teri Bonsell.
Joe Riser’s “Back to Business” slate was countered by the “Preserve ASNC Slate” offered by ASNC President Martha Benedict and stalwart Southwest Museum advocate Anne Walnum.
Although “electioneering” was prohibited, there was nothing in the way of punishment or sanctions to back up that prohibition, so it was mostly ignored.
Peter Hilton, an Eagle Rock resident running for ERNC President, put out a flyer calling the pro-dispensary slate a “Criminal Organization” and saying they were trying to take over the council. A complaint was lodged against him, and Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) election officials simply told him not to do that.
The Eagle Rock controversy started weeks before when Ryder formed the pro-dispensary slate. He said he would get all the medical marijuana patients from the local collectives to vote for his slate. This was not the first time outsiders were encouraged to vote in a local neighborhood council election, because several years before, Victory Outreach church in Glassell Park encouraged their parishioners to vote for their slate of candidates after the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council (GPNC) denied the church’s proposal to install a video pole sign tower at the church’s location on Eagle Rock Boulevard.
Suddenly, the anti-dispensary forces on the ERNC teamed up with CD14 councilman Jose Huizar. worried that patients (customers) of the medical marijuana dispensaries from outside the area would over-run the polls and elect the pro-dispensary slate, and reverse the ERNC’s rigid stance opposing the marijuana dispensaries. ERNC and CD14 got together to try to disenfranchise voters, and deny the dispensary owners, employees and customers their right to vote.
Terrence Gomes, Independent Election Administrator claimed that a deputy from Los Angeles City Attorney’s office (who was never named) advised that Medical Marijuana Dispensaries are not authorized under the Los Angeles Administrative Code as any of the permissible and enumerated uses contained within the Code, and that therefore, the use of property as a Medical Marijuana Dispensary is unauthorized and illegal. Thus, the owners, employees and customers of such establishments could not qualify as a stakeholder and vote.
This was the first time ever that business owners, whose businesses are authorized by state law, and who pay rent to local property owners and pay their L.A. City Business Taxes, and where no city ordinance, law or code exists prohibiting such a business, had their Neighborhood Council stakeholder status and their vote revoked and denied by CD14 Councilman Jose Huizar, the L.A. City Attorney’s office and the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council.
However… it was determined that simply shopping in Eagle Rock conferred stakeholder status to an individual. Therefore, it was announced that all that such business owners, employees and their customers had to do was go to Starbucks, buy a cup of coffee, and bring in the receipt proving their status as a stakeholder (hence the term Starbucks Stakeholder)
There was pre-election excitement in other NELA neighborhoods as well. In the ASNC contest, Mt. Washington and Lummis Day organizer Elliot Sekular issued a press release calling Joe Riser’s candidacy for the ASNC Board “Unethical,” because he was running for the Sycamore Grove geographical representative position, while he lives in Hermon.
Riser shot back saying Sekular was just using the ASNC, “…as a piggy bank for his pet projects,” and claimed Sekular was hypocritical for using the same “stakeholder status” he was using to try to get more funding for the Lummis Day Festival that Sekular organizes.
On October 13, election day finally arrived.
I visited all the local elections, using my “hamburger” stakeholder status (I hate Starbucks) and voted in each one.
Highland Park was very organized and quiet, and busy, with the line extending out almost to the sidewalk.
When I got close to Ramona Hall, I looked for a place to buy something for my stakeholder status and ended up getting donut holes for $.99. Upon arrival at the hall, it looked like a circus, or maybe the red light district. Candidates and slate promoters were all the way out into the traffic lanes on North Figueroa. I swear it looked like a bunch of prostitutes fighting over Johns. Cars trying to enter the parking lot stopping and examining the goods, and negotiating terms, while traffic backed up the block, blocking the street.
There was a good turnout here, and inside, Anne Walnum was receiving voter registration forms. Later, she was criticized for promoting a slate and working the polls in the same election, but from what I saw, she was playing it straight. Here, they gave out tickets for free tacos when you registered to vote, and in the parking lot, there were fresh tacos off the grill with all the trimmings. (Is it OK to pay voters to vote with tacos?)
Cypress Park’s election was canceled because there were no seats that were contested. The new board will be seated and look for volunteers to fill the remaining seats.
I popped into Verdugo Hardware to cement my stakeholder status in Glassell Park and bought candy; 2 packages for $1.50. Upon entering the polls I saw they had a small turnout, and the voting was quick and smooth. Here, I first heard of a “situation” that brought seven police cruisers into the ERNC polling place. However, there were no details to hear there, and since my next stop was Eagle Rock. I headed north.
I headed up Colorado Boulevard to the Colorado Donut shop and bought a small diet coke to cement my “donut hole stakeholder” status. When I returned to the polls, I noticed quite a few folks positioned all around the Eagle Rock City Hall polling place (field office of CD14 Councilman Huizar). Some were electioneering the required 100 feet away.
I saw David Greene and family with a table and umbrella set up in front giving out lemonade. (Lemonade for votes is OK?) On the side, there were several groups of people milling around. As I approached the polls, there was a line. I held up my receipt for the coke and the Jay Handel, election administrator, let me right in without showing any type of ID, just the receipt for the soda. I asked and asked what the hassle was earlier, why did seven police cars show up? No one knew or if they did, they wouldn’t tell me.
After I voted, I hovered around the polls for a while, and met Mark O’Hara, who heads the Patient Care Alliance, a trade group of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. He said he really had a strong dislike for Councilmember Huizar, and was there trying to help elect the pro-dispensary slate of candidates. The “Patient Care Alliance” is the group suing the city over the city’s ordinances banning the dispensaries.
It was about this time I heard about the infamous flyer offering $40 worth of medical marijuana to marijuana collective members who show proof that they voted in the election. More about this later.
I still was trying to find out why the police had come, and candidate Peter Hilton told me that it was Eagle Rocker Dan Hankin that the police had removed from the polls. You know… Dan? The big guy who often is playing guitar and singing for tips outside Trader Joe’s Market?
Why? Well, according to Dan, he just happened to get to the polling place at the same time Tricia Neal did, and got into an argument with her. Why? Because Tricia is the owner of Swork Coffee Shop, and Dan has been 86’d from most all of the restaurants and bars and coffee shops in town, starting with hers, because he likes to talk politics in those places and always gets loud and verbally abusive when he does.
I know he’s harmless, but he is big and loud and it freaks people out when he gets excited talking politics. He got into an argument with Tricia, and as always, got so loud and abusive. ERNC Board member Maria Nazario reported that Hankin was screaming at the voters inside the polling place, and that election administrator Handel called the police.
Dan said he had just settled down and began to vote when he noticed a shot gun pointing at his head and immediately he was being escorted out in handcuffs by uniformed L.A.P.D. officers. No charges were filed, but he was shaken up enough that he was discouraged from going back to finish his vote.
I wanted to find out about this $40 flyer. Was it real or a rumor? Was it actually buying votes, or a ploy by anti marijuana advocates to discredit the pot shops? I never found out for sure. A post on a local blog claiming the flyers were from a pot shop on Rampart and Third Street didn’t pan out. It was one of the shops unionized by the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers Union) but they denied any knowledge of it.
Green slate (Progress and Collaboration) presidential Candidate Nelson Grande did admit to calling and asking for the help of the UFCW, but knew nothing about the flyer. Tim Ryder says he knew nothing about the flyer. Calls to the UFCW asking for comment were not returned.
The person who seemed to know the most about the flyer was ERNC President Michael Larsen, because of his numerous posts about it on a local blog, including a photo of the flyer. This is why he was suspected of creating it as a sort of election tomfoolery. That and because he has not been too careful about avoiding the appearance of impropriety during his presidency, which led to official election challenge #2 alleging he was improperly using his position as ERNC President to vouch for a particular slate of candidates, as well as improperly denying voter eligibility during the election, a charge he denies.
Another challenge was filed by Shauna Smith, who is the spouse of candidate Duy Tran, who was bested by Baker Montgomery, one of the P&C (Green) slate candidates. She asked that the winning P&C slate candidates be disallowed due to the flyer offering $40 of marijuana. (You can buy votes with Tacos or Lemonade but not Pot?)
The whole $40 pot flyer issue made the world wide news, being broadcast on CNN as Nick Valencia, a reporter originally from Eagle Rock came across the story on the internet, and ran with it.
Results in a Nutshell
Two of the P&C candidates won seats on the ERNC, Baker Montgomery and Eddie Ramirez. Most of the Eagle Rock Neighbors candidates won, including Michael Nogueira who is the new ERNC President. Presidential candidate Peter Hilton who was not on either slate came in third with 63 votes. He was upset claiming the votes were bought by Marijuana, in the case of Nelson Grande who got 283 votes, and by cotton candy from the farmer’s market for winner Michael Nogueira who got 309 votes. (Tacos, Lemonade, Cotton Candy and Marijuana. Junk food is apparently OK but medical marijuana is not?)
All except two of the “Working for Highland Park” candidates were elected. And all except two of the No on 710 candidates lost, including current visible and vocal HHPNC board members Cathi Milligan, Janet Dodson and Trish Gosset.
Of the four contested seats in the ASNC election, The “Preserve ASNC” slate swept the field. Six of the “Back to Business” candidates were elected, they were the only candidates for those seats.
Teri Bonsell has the sole distinction of being elected as At-Large Director to two neighborhood councils, Historic Highland Park and the Arroyo Seco.
Bradley will again be on the Glassell Park Council. He beat Elizabeth Gallardo by 28 votes. However, Victory Outreach’s George Smith was bested by Michael Divac by 34 votes for at large representative.
Arlene Santos won out over two contenders for Area 5 representative, Martin Gregori bested two others for area 6, and Michael Martinez and Paul Blanco got the top votes out of four candidates for organizational representative.
Maggie Darret-Quiroz, Ruby de Vera and Gladys Pinto-Munoz will again serve on the Glassell Park council