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Vote Nears On Skid Row's Proposed Neighborhood Council

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A mural of Skid Row in 2015. (Photo by Ivan Darko via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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The L.A. area is home to 96 neighborhood councils. While these councils don't have legislative power, they may be the catalyst for local events, and can influence the course of civic projects. Each council is afforded $37,000 in public funds each year to support their efforts, says the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) represents the downtown L.A. area, including Skid Row, but this may be changing soon, as locals and activists are pushing for a separate Skid Row Neighborhood Council (SRNC). This council, if it comes to fruition via an election on April 6, will take out a sizable territory of DLANC, as well as a swath of the neighboring Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council (HCNC). This proposed council will encompass about 50 blocks, and will be bordered by 3rd Street, Main St., Alameda St., and East 7th St. Here's a map of the area that would be represented by SRNC:

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(Courtesy of EmpowerLA)
The effort is met with opposition, with some saying that the formation of the SRNC could impede efforts to develop in the area. Proponents, however, say that Skid Row needs its own council to address the issues that are specific to its residents.

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"What people west of Main have been receiving, those are the same things that people here have been asking. They're just the things that any community would ask for. We want our own independent voice," Charles Porter, a member of the SRNC formation committee, told LAist. "The community has been asking for more green space, more resources for homeless families. They want development, safe spaces, social spaces, a community center. They're what people in any neighborhood would want," said Porter.

Ann Maria McCall, an organizer who's been working to promote SRNC, said that DLANC has been ineffectual in addressing the pressing concerns of Skid Row. "[DLANC] has done nothing. We're seeing homelessness explode—not that it's their fault—but our streets need to be cleaned, the people need to be housed," McCall told LAist. McCall was formerly homeless, and had spent time on Skid Row—these days she works to help get women off the streets.

As noted at LA Downtown News, some in the opposition believe that the addition of SRNC would isolate a part of downtown, and could make it harder for developers to get projects going in the area.

“While the homeless are vital to the economy of DTLA and the entire City of Los Angeles, the pending proposal to divide Downtown Los Angeles into separate geographic districts will have a significant fiscal and far-reaching economic impact on the entire city,” Scott Gray, director of operations for downtown developer Capital Foresight, said in an email, according to LA Downtown News.

The question of how much a neighborhood council can impact business and development is debatable, but the effect is appreciable. In 2012, DLANC recommended against giving a liquor license to a proposed Main Street eatery that would be situated on the ground floor of the New Genesis, an apartment complex that was developed by the nonprofit Skid Row Housing Trust. It was expected that some residents there might be in addiction recovery. “General” Jeff Page, who represented Skid Row on DLANC (and is currently chair of the SRNC formation committee), advised against giving the eatery the liquor license. DLANC voted 8-4 to not send a letter of support for the license, according to an earlier LA Downtown News article, which said the decision "jeopardized the proposed liquor license."

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As noted at Los Angeles Daily News, there were concerns that neighborhood councils would be powerless when they were first conceived through a revision of the City Charter in 1999, but increased participation has shown that the councils can be an influential force in civic matters. In 2013, L.A. councilmembers Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino pushed for the council to vote for a $3 billion bond issue—it was intended for street repairs— to be included on an upcoming ballot. The proposal didn't come with staff reports, and financial implications for the public were vague, according to the Daily News. Neighborhood council groups, starting with the Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils, called for a 60-day delay to allow for a review of the proposal. As part of the groups' efforts, residents also called City Council to voice their concerns. These actions resulted with the City Council putting off the vote on the bond.

Seamus Garrity, who formerly served as vice chair of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, told LAist that a council's power lies in its ability to engender civic engagement. "In terms of outreach in a community, [neighborhood councils] do have access to that. If you have a board that is staunchly opposed to a project, that's the outreach you'll have. And if they're not opposed to it, then that's the outreach you get. It depends on who's on the board."

Beyond the issue of development, there is the broader topic of representation. As gentrification continues in the areas along Main Street, there are questions regarding the disparity between the residents here and the ones living further east. Would SRNC amplify the voice of one side and leave out the other? "There are people who say we may bring up marginal issues, and that there won't be a diversity of issues, but that's not the case," said Porter. McCall maintains that the efforts to build the SRNC is about fair representation in the area. "We know that downtown—their whole agenda is to gentrify, from here to the Arts District. But at the same time, you can't deny a community of nearly 20,000 people its rights. You can't minimize who they are," said McCall.

Porter also said that concerns that SRNC is anti-development are inaccurate. "Community members in this neighborhood want to see development as well. But we want development that meets our needs. We want development that is guided and informed by our stakeholders, whose voice have been silenced," said Porter. He points to the need for more housing for low-income families.

As noted at LA Downtown News, the opposition is also looking into alleged flaws in SRNC's application. A group called United Downtown L.A., which is represented by former L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, says that there are too many mistakes in the application. For instance, they point to imprecise addresses on some of the petition signatures that were required.

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“We believe that the city has the ability to pause the election and go back and do it right, which we think would be in the best interest of everyone — including the formation committee,” Delgadillo told LA Downtown News. “If it is formed, it would be a problem for people to be able to question its legitimacy.”

Delgadillo also claims that the SRNC formation committee did not do enough outreach for stakeholders in downtown. Estela Lopez, executive director of the Industrial District Business Improvement District, echoed this sentiment to Urbanize LA. "This is the first subdivision election in the city’s history, and the City left outreach efforts entirely to the applicants, who by their own admission have few resources. Could the City have done a better job of empowering voters? Absolutely,” said Lopez. “People are only now starting to realize that there’s an election, but there’s been no time for thoughtful conversation about what we’re voting on.” Page told LA Downtown News that SRNC backers had indeed reached out to business owners and other groups in the area, including the Central City East Association that operates the Industrial District BID.

The fate of the proposed SRNC will be decided on Thursday, April 6, when local stakeholders vote on the matter at James Wood Community Center at 400 East 5th Street. The polls will be open from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Voting is also currently open online, and there'll be pop-up polling places that'll crop up around downtown L.A. in the days leading up to April 6 (you can find a list of these pop-ups here). As noted by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the election is open to stakeholders in the DLANC, HCNC, and proposed SRNC areas, with "stakeholder" defined as "any individual who lives, works or owns real property in the neighborhood." Voting is also open "to those who declare a stake in the neighborhood as a community interest stakeholder." If you're registering you'll need to provide a photo ID and documentation that shows you "live, work, own, or have an ongoing participation locally." Online registration ends on Sunday. You can also register in person at the pop-up polls, as well as at James Wood Community Center on the day of the election.

And earlier version of this story said that DLANC had voted 8-4 to refrain from sending a letter of support for a liquor license for a Main Street eatery, implying that this action resulted in the eatery not getting a license. Porter told LAist that it was a DLANC subcommittee that decided against sending a letter of support for the license—the full board for DLANC, however, would later agree to issue a note of support. The city zoning administrator later granted a permit for alcohol, but the Central Area Planning Commission then granted an appeal of that decision, leading to a denial of the alcohol license.