How LA’s Skid Row Got Screwed: Neighborhood Council Grievance Panels are a Fraud!

LOS ANGELES

EASTSIDER-A while ago I wrote an article on the Skid Row election, among other happenings, and promised a fuller look at their election. Well, here’s the follow up, and it isn’t pretty. 

Petition and Election 

Most of us who were around when the Neighborhood Councils were first formed knew how DLANC (the Downtown NC) was set up was to “manage” Skid Row. As early as 2014, the Skid Row NC Formation Committee was created to try and get out of the DLANC, as downtown real estate values soared and the plight of the homeless tanked. 

In January 2017, DONE (Department of Neighborhood Empowerment) sent the formation committee the approval and a notice calling for an election, with the unprecedented language that their election “may also include online voting.” We already knew the establishment of DLANC and HCNC (Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council) were well funded to take them out when their front group, United Downtown, or Unite DTLA, was represented by former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s law firm. 

 He sent a 10-page letter to BONC (as well as to Garcetti, Feuer, Huizar, Grayce Liu and DONE’s City Attorney, Darrren Matrinez.) You can find a link to his letter in an article here.   

When all of this didn’t work, Jose Huizar himself slammed through online voting just for this election, with about two weeks to go before the vote. You have to wonder how many homeless voters had access to any of this tech – as opposed to their opponents with their iPhones, social media chops, and political clout. 

Unsurprisingly, the Skid Row Formation Committee lost its bid in an amazingly close election, considering the forces lined up against them. The final tally included over 1600 votes cast, with Skid Row losing by a mere 62 votes. 

But all was not over. The Skid Row folks fought back, obtaining information that the Unite DTLA folks were actually a front set up by DLANC to oppose the creation of a Skid Row NC; they had used DLANC resources to do the dirty. You can read the details in a General Jeff article in CityWatch

They also determined that Jose Huizar and his staff had their fingerprints all over this deal, and personally put the fix in for online voting to halt the breakaway. For the full story, check out this CityWatch article regarding his involvement 

A flurry of grievances and challenges to the election were filed and three of those grievances were certified to be heard by a DONE Regional Grievance Panel. 

The Grievance Panel 

In the area of dispute resolution, any grievance procedure has three main elements: it should be reasonably quick (timely), everyone should have an opportunity to be heard, and ultimately, the final result should be decided by some neutral (or at least independent) agency or person. 

And in the case of DONE, the actual Ordinance (see Council File 15-0067) provides for this. There are seven Regional Grievance Panels, and their members come from the ranks of the Neighborhood Councils themselves, with each NC able to appoint one representative. Of course, there is the curious provision that DONE can unilaterally dismiss any appointment for cause, or for absolutely no cause at all, but that’s a question for another day. 

The Ordinance has definitions, grievance forms, who has standing to file, and a well-defined grievance process. It also provides that the three-member Grievance Panel will be “randomly selected.” Of major interest here, the hearing procedure expressly provides that “the only written evidence considered at the Grievance Panel Hearing will be the Grievance Form, the Grievance Response Form and up to three witness statements filed by each side.” 

At hearing, the only oral testimony allowed is provided by the Grievant (here the Formation Committee), the Neighborhood Council representative, and up to ten minutes for public comment.  Period. 

In a shocking display that democracy can actually work, the Grievance Panel found in favor of all three of the grievances: 

(103) opponents used City logos, including the LA City logo, EmpowerLA logo, NC logos, and other City department logos, in their campaign materials against the proposed Skid Row NC; 

(104) that the DLANC Neighborhood Council Board endorsed the opponents of the proposed Skid Row NC; and 

(105) electioneering, in the form of the Unite DTLA “Vote No” campaign. 

Score one for the Grievance Panel, democracy, and the NC Charter. But wait, there’s more! 

Oops! Results were DONE in 

So, let’s see what happened. 

On May 19, 2017, Grayce Liu (General Manager of DONE), sent a letter to General Jeff Page of the Skid Row NC-FC, with the following bottom line: 

After careful review of the Election Challenge Panel’s recommendations and with much appreciation for the time and thoughtfulness the panel put into their consideration of the challenges, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (Department) will not accept the Election Challenge Panel’s recommendations and will certify the April 6, 2017 election results as final.” 

Here’s the problem with DONE’s position, and I quote from the actual Ordinance 183487, (d)(12), which states: 

Only a Grievant or the Neighborhood Council at issue in the Grievance may appeal a determination of the Regional Grievance Panel. The only basis to appeal a Decision of the Regional Grievance Panel is an allegation of impropriety by the Regional Grievance Panel 

and, 

If the Department determines that the Regional Grievance Panel’s determination was improper, the Department shall establish another Regional Grievance Panel to reconsider the Grievance. 

So, DONE’s Great Bureaucrat in the Sky simply waived the magic wand to overrule the Grievance Panel, parenthetically without following the City’s own Ordinance. Thank you very much Mr. Huizar, and how about increasing the DONE budget for a “job well done?” 

The Takeaway 

Clearly DONE violated the very Ordinance which was designed to hear the grievances, and if they didn’t intend to follow the law, the very least they could have done was to say so. A grievance procedure that is overruled outside  of the procedure (for clearly political reasons) is not a grievance procedure at all. Besides, it was a sloppy job. If the City wanted a fix, they should have fixed who was on the Panel, just like the private sector does. This job simply shows incompetence at fixing an outcome. 

Also, it is clear that Grayce Liu couldn’t have written this gobbledygook letter on the best day she ever lived. I’m betting this was a ghost write by Deputy City Attorney Darren Martinez, doing his lord and master Mike Feuer’s bidding. And the City Attorney has a screaming out loud conflict of interest! Its primary client is the Mayor and the City Council, not some gonzo Neighborhood Council System and DONE, which they don’t even like anyway and routinely just tell them what to do, instead of giving actual legal advice. Same for BONC. Sheesh! 

To keep this article a reasonable length, I won’t even go into the procedural violations of the Regional Grievance Panel Ordinance, such as allowing DONE to be treated as a separate party in the hearing, an act specifically not allowed in the Ordinance sections I have previously quoted. Check out the CityWatch article on September 13, 2017, “Another One Finger Salute to Neighborhood Councils.”   

The conclusion I can’t escape is that homeless folks are great to have when it comes to passing bond measures for the City coffers like HHH, but for actual self-governance? No way! Or take a look at Laura Velkei’s take on the election.

 

Note: Many of the records referred to in this article were obtained by a Public Records request I sent to DONE. Personal thanks to Mike Fong (DONE staff) for a timely and complete response (it doesn’t always work that way.) Also, thank god for CityWatch, who’s contributors supplied most of the articles dealing with this important election.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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