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Nithya Raman’s Hollywood Homeless Headache

DEEGAN ON LA-This is Part 2 in a series about Councilmember Nithya Raman (CD4). 

CityWatch recently heard from a Hollywood area resident who has some issues with how her own concerns and the community’s needs are being served by Councilmember Nithya Raman’s CD4 staff. 

Her story provoked interviews with several other Hollywood community leaders and activists whose own experiences with Raman’s Hollywood field manager paint a negative picture of struggling aide Tabatha Yelos (photo above). 

She came from nowhere, which is worth trying to understand. What was the competitive recruiting, vetting, and hiring process that put her in this position of civic responsibility? Two years before her 2020 hiring by Raman, Yelos was a college student studying design and media arts hoping to become a website and apps designer. Her resume on LinkedIn shows several short-term entry level jobs in her chosen field of study, and a few internships at places like The Cartoon Network while in school where she minored in film, television, and music history. 

There’s nothing that shows a preference, or an aptitude for politics, except some door-knocking activity for Loraine Lundquist (CD12) -- but not for Raman -- in the 2020 election campaign. 

Yelos transitioned from being someone who designed an app that answers the question of “Can I park here?” which allows you to take a picture of a parking sign that confuses you and somehow, in cyberspace, find out yes or no if you can park there. From there, she became a radicalized activist who believed in chanting “All Cops Are Bastards” to show her anti-cop and police defunding sympathies. Councilmember Raman has publicly distanced herself from Yelos when it comes to Yelos’ badmouthing cops. 

Now that she’s a CD4 staffer, questions have been raised about the triangular relationship between Yelos, CD4, and Ground Game LA -- which calls itself, “a horizontally-managed, grassroots group, building community & electoral power in Los Angeles.” The organization endorsed Raman and Holly Mitchell and door-knocked for their campaigns. 

CityWatch has seen a May 24, 2021, letter sent from a neighborhood council to Raman, the Mayor, and several senior city politicos, suggesting that Yelos is blurring the lines between her work with GGLA and CD4, while on the CD4 payroll. The letter asks Raman for an explanation. Although Yelos doesn’t mention it on her resume -- and CD4 did not include the fact its hiring announcement or on its city website -- Yelos is CEO of Ground Game LA, according to the most recent filing by the NPO with the California Secretary of State. 

Warning of a potential conflict of interest, the NC’s statement says, “There also needs to be confirmation that employees inside CD4 are not utilizing city resources for Ground Game objectives, including, but not limited to, phones, email, equipment, working hours. This also applies to Tabatha Yelos herself.” 

Councilmember Raman has not yet denied or clarified that Manchurian candidate type question of who Yelos is exclusively working for, or co-governing with. 

Many in the community see a different Yelos -- not a political provocateur but a naive ingenue who has a hard time keeping up with her overwhelming responsibilities as the CD4 field manager (formerly called a field deputy) whose duty it is to serve the needs of the 61,469 constituents in Hollywood, and to reflect positively on her Councilmember boss Nithya Raman. 

Tabatha Yelos stands as a buyer-beware cautionary tale illustrating the pitfalls of inexperience being mistaken for ability. 

Quoting from the letter, the narrative goes like this: 

“Our organization manages property one block from the Sunset and Martel homeless encampment. I’m dealing constantly about it with Tabatha Yelos, Nithya Raman’s CD4 field manager for Hollywood. 

“From my observation, the issue is with the lack of discipline in the planning, focus, execution and getting things done -- in essence, the most basic management skills.    

“In my view, very often, their approach is inefficient, counter-productive, irrational, or illogical and that’s not benefitting anyone, not the unhoused, the community or the city. It’s an absolutely bad outcome for everyone. 

“Tabatha Yelos suggested to me that I get into the encampment and socialize with the ‘residents.’ That’s passing onto residents the duty City officials are obligated and get paid to perform. Telling someone to enter the encampment and ‘socialize’ -- I am still not sure if it was a serious suggestion or a joke.  

“Tabatha Yelos, in my view, does not yet have sufficient experience and skills in managing projects of that magnitude, and with delivering actual results affecting so many people. 

“Perhaps, there is a misunderstanding about what Tabatha’s duties actually are.” 

The mockery of telling someone to “get into the encampment and socialize with the residents” is not the first time Yelos has put the city in jeopardy of a lawsuit. What if that tea party didn’t go well and someone got hurt? Just a few days ago, a homeless person fatally gunned down another homeless person in broad daylight, at high noon, on a Miracle Mile sidewalk, one of Raman’s CD4 communities. 

Another high-risk Yelos action that bordered on a lawsuit for the city was when the un-permitted and illegal Mokuzai pop-up restaurant squatted on city property at the Wilcox Triangle in Hollywood (Wilcox-Franklin-Cahuenga). 

Yelos, apparently without a sign-off from her boss, wanted to encourage Mokuzai because, as she told the community in an email justification “the owners of the restaurant reached out to me and informed me that if they were to take down the pop-up, that they would go out of business. This was especially concerning since so many businesses have already closed due to the pandemic and we do not want to see more closing down.” 

It was not, Yelos continued, until the “City Attorney's office got involved and informed us that since the triangle is the public right-of-way, the City has serious liability and safety concerns, and that it was necessary for this pop-up to come down.” 

Two requests from CityWatch to Raman’s chief of staff and press deputy went unanswered. One was asking to make Yelos available for comment, to be able to provide balance to the reporting on her role with the homeless encampment and the illegal pop-up restaurant. The other was asking for an unequivocal statement by Councilmember Raman that she supports Yelos 100% and has full confidence in her field manager. Raman’s silence gives the appearance of her leaving Yelos twisting in the wind. 

To reward volunteers who worked hard to get him elected, President Bill Clinton brought several of them into West Wing jobs at the White House. A year later, one of the rewarded volunteers recounted, Clinton called them together and said it was time to bring in the political professionals. “Thank you for your help and be sure to include my name on your resume as you look for your next job” was his farewell message to them. 

Interviews by CityWatch with several Hollywood community leaders and activists point to the same conclusion about Yelos. 

Politically, Raman may not be able to afford keeping the lightning rod that some in the community call “Tabatha the toddler,” just as the city may not be able to afford the potential lawsuits Yelos’ bad judgement could cause. She has already come close to that twice. 

A community source that has had many first-hand dealings with Yelos said, “It’s as though you’re dealing with someone with half a brain or brainwashed.” 

Yelos recently tried to use her city position to interfere with rangers in Griffith Park, objecting to them doing their lawful duty of making an arrest of a homeless person. The president of the park rangers union observed, “If you’re employing people with that type of mentality where does that leave us?” 

Sooner or later, if she expects to survive and succeed in the contact sport of community politics, it may become politically expedient for Raman to swap out Yelos, who is seen as unhelpful-to-the-community, for an experienced pro as her Hollywood field manager. Someone who will respect and serve Raman’s Hollywood constituents in a way that helps advance Raman’s agenda and supports the community. 

Raman, like any councilperson, deserves not to be undercut by her staff as she learns the hard job of how to govern for CD4 and the city as a whole. Raman also owes it to the community to provide skilled staff, not someone who acts like a kid just off the playground. 

Read the first in this series, posted on CityWatch on June 6, 2021: “Watching Nithya Raman - Part 1.” 

Coming soon: Part 3 -- more of Raman’s strategies for dealing with the homeless. And in Part 4 -- her role in the developer threats to neighborhoods that have homeowners telling her, “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY). Additional topics: TBD. 

This multi-part CityWatch series will continue. Readers in the CD4 communities of Los Feliz, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Greater Hancock Park and Toluca Lake are welcome to send tips and comments to the writer at [email protected]. Tips and comments from readers citywide are also welcome. Requests for anonymity will be respected as long as the writer is privately identified to CityWatch.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appears in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.