The first test of Los Angeles’s new Neighborhood Council subdivision provision kicked off yesterday, when online voting opened for the Skid Row Neighborhood Council (SRNC).

If passed, SRNC would cover 49 blocks spanning the area between Main and Alameda Streets and Third and Seventh Streets, and would share or overlap boundaries with the Arts District, Little Tokyo and the Fashion District. SRNC would become Downtown L.A.’s third Neighborhood Council after the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) and the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council (HCNC). DLANC would cede 45 blocks to SRNC, while HCNC would cede 4 blocks.

SRNC would also overlap with other entities such as the Fashion District, Historic Core and Industrial District BIDs. Its border closely mirrors the Industrial District BID, with approximately 85% of the IDBID’s area falling under SRNC’s purview.

A Community Seeking Self Determination

Efforts to create an independent Skid Row NC began in part out of frustrations amongst Skid Row residents that the community’s needs were not being met by DLANC.

Nowhere is this desire for a new direction made clearer than in the Governing Board requirements listed in the SCNC bylaws:

  • 5 Resident Board Members, 3 of whom must be low-income or homeless
  • 1 Community Advocate/Social Justice Board Member
  • 1 Social Service Provider/Faith-Based Board Member
  • 1 At-Large Board Member
  • 1 Arts & Culture Board Member
  • 1 Business Board Member

The bylaws also note a lifetime Founder Emeritus position for “General” Jeff Page, the Skid Row activist spearheading the petition.

This marks a sharp contrast with DLANC’s Board composition with DLANC’s Board of directors:

  • 9 Resident Directors, split across DLANC’s 6 sub-regions
  • 1 Area Wide Homeless Resident Director
  • 8 Business Stakeholder Directors, split across DLANC’s 6 sub-regions
  • 2 Social Service Provider Directors
  • 2 Area-Wide Directors
  • 1 At-Large Stakeholder

While it’s clear that the SCNC Board would be in tune with the needs of Skid Row’s disadvantaged community, it is less clear how well it would represent the needs of Skid Row’s substantial business community. According to a 2015 Central City East Association (CCEA) study, the area is home to 600 businesses and 5,600 jobs.

Likewise, with a western border that reaches the heart of Downtown’s Historic Core, it is challenging to see how the needs of residents in market rate buildings such as Mercantile Lofts, Pacific Electric Lofts, Santa Fe Lofts, San Fernando Lofts or the Medallion would be served by a neighborhood council so exclusively geared towards serving homeless and low-income residents.

A Failure of Outreach

The SRNC formation committee has drawn criticism from stakeholders for a lack of outreach about their effort to the community.

“The property owners in our district that would be directly affected by a Skid Row Neighborhood Council were not informed until about 10 days ago.” commented Rena Masten Leddy, Executive Director of the Fashion District BID. “And I can’t even speak on behalf of our BID on this issue because we weren’t given enough time to have a board meeting to discuss the issue before the vote.”

“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.”

Industrial District BID leadership was also sharply critical of the lack of outreach efforts with Executive Director Estela Lopez laying equal blame with the SRNC formation committee and City Hall. “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.” Lopez stated. “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.”

Indeed, the City’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) made some head-scratching decisions in approving SRNC’s application and outreach plan. Initially, voting was to be constrained to a single in-person polling location in the heart of Skid Row, for a four-hour window during business hours.

The decision to add online voting and several pop-up polls came just 14 days prior to the election after former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, representing the group United Downtown LA, lodged a formal complaint outlining violations of the municipal code governing NC elections and asking for a postponement of this election.

The complaint detailed several deficiencies in the petition including an exclusionary effect as a result of the lack of outreach, a failure to meet the minimum 20,000 resident threshold, and invalid bylaws.

The complaint also calls the legitimacy of the 500 signatures gathered for the petition into question, pointing out the existence of duplicate signatures and that “an overwhelming majority merely state ‘6th and San Pedro’ as the address with no e-mail address, phone number or any kind of description identifying the basis of their stakeholder eligibility.”

The full text of the complaint is available here.

How to Vote

Anyone who lives, works, owns property or has substantial interest within the boundaries of DLANC or HCNC is eligible to vote on the SRNC petition.

Online voting began Tuesday March 28 and continues until Thursday April 6 at 7pm.

You can register to vote online here, or at any of the 12 pop-up polling locations from March 29 through April 5.

Online registration closes on Sunday April 2. After that, you can only register in person at one of the pop-up polls.

Election day is Thursday April 6. There is a single polling location at the James Wood Community Center in Skid Row (400 E 5th St.) Polls will be open for four hours, from 3 pm–7 pm.