Change in representation in City Council District 4 was a major theme at last night’s Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council board meeting. The session opened with a visit from City Council Member-Elect Nithya Raman and one of her two newly announced top staffers, Jessica Salans…and later it included a formal vote of congratulations to the new Council Member, and also a formal recognition of outgoing Council Member David Ryu and his staff.
In her remarks, Salans, one of three Raman campaign staffers transitioning into a staff position with the new councilmember, said the new office would be fully staffed in January, and that staff will focus on four priority issues: homelessness, tenants’ rights, small business support, and transportation. Salans said there will be two legislative staffers, and two dealing with planning issues. Salans herself will have the role of District Director, and will share chief-of-staff duties with Megan Choi, who also worked with Raman in her succesful election campaign. And, finally, Salans said there will also be a staff member dedicated to intergovernmental relations.
Meanwhile, Raman said the next few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic will be dire for Los Angeles, and the trouble will lead to a budget crisis that will last for months and likely years. Raman noted that she worked in the City Administrator’s Office during the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, and people are saying this one will be even worse.
But Raman said she is lucky to have a new advisory team on board to help with her transition. The team, as previously announced, includes former City Administrator Miguel Santana, who has also served as chief of the LA County Fair Association and is now moving to the Weingart Foundation…Sarah Dusseault, former chief of staff to David Ryu…Victor Narro, project director for the UCLA Labor Center, and David Abud and Jose Roberto Hernandez, from the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, who are well versed in both immigrant and labor issues. Raman also said she is grateful for the transition support she’s been receiving from outgoing Council Member Ryu and his staff.
In a followup question about the relevance of labor and immigration experts to CD4 business, Raman noted that there is a wide range of income levels in CD4, and that her advisors’ experience in labor issues is very deep and broad.
For more information on issues and policies, Raman referred stakeholders to her website – nithyaforthecity.com. She concluded her remarks by noting again that the pandemic and related issues such as unemployment, food and housing insecurity, will become even more dire in coming weeks and months. And to navigate those issues, she said we will need to build a better support system for the homeless, to help them access shelter and housing, and figure out how to provide a more coordinated system for tenants’ rights enforcement, so renters have better access to information and advocates. People are facing more insecurity than ever at the moment, Raman said, and we need to make sure we can provide greater levels of stability and support moving forward.
Later in the meeting, the GWNC board also voted unanimously to officially congratulate Raman on her victory, and then – during a report from the Outreach Committee – it was announced that the committe also voted to award the GWNC’s periodic Citizen Recognition Award – for the first time ever “with distinction” – to outgoing Council Member David Ryu, and his staff members Nikki Ezhari, Catherine Landers, Nick Greif, Rob Fisher, and Emma Howard.
Government Reports & Announcements
In other business last night, a number of city representatives gave brief updates from their offices.
Erin Seinfeld, representing the office of LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, provided supdates on the current COVID-19 surge, noting that there were 9,432 new cases announced yesterday, and 75 deaths…and ICU space in LA County is down to just 11.8% of available beds. On the other hand, though, Seinfeld noted that the state of California has reversed its closure of children’s playgrounds, which will now be open for play with masks and appropriate social distancing. Also, Seinfeld reported that Supervisor Kuehl introduced a motion yesterday that would support local restaurants by using federal CARES Act funds to pay them to provide meals for those in need. The program, Seinfeld said, would be similar to the state-level Great Plates program that provides restaurant-cooked meals for seniors during the pandemic.
Next, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment representative John Darnell urged all board members and stakeholders to attend an upcoming informational meeting on the city’s proposed new Digital Media Policy for neighborhood councils, which has generated a lot of discussion on how extensively the city can regulate the personal communications of NC board members. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, December 15, at 5 p.m. To RSVP and receive a link for the online session, see http://tiny.cc/DigitalMediaPolicyDec16 (For more on the GWNC’s official response to the proposed policy, see below.)
Aditi Shakkarwar, from the office of California State Assembly Member Richard Bloom, reported that the new legislature was sworn in on Monday, and that her office is still working hard to negotiate thousands of unemployment benefit cases with the Economic Development Department. She also said particular areas of focus for the Assembly Member this session will be COVID-19, environmental issues, economic recovery and homelessness.
Finally among local government reports, Ned Racine, from Metro, reported there will be closures of westbound Wilshire Blvd., from Highland to La Brea, this Saturday and next, to allow for delivery of concrete and other materials to the Purple Line Extension construction site at Wilshire and La Brea. Also, Racine noted that construction of a station appendage structure at Wilshire and Orange Drive is on schedule to finish in February, and that similar construction will begin on underground structures at Sycamore Ave. later in 2021. Finally, Racine said Metro still hasn’t identified the “anomaly” found underground during construction near Wilshire and La Cienega, but it may be part of the infrastructure for a large storm drain that passes through the location, or part of the infrastructure for an old railroad system.
Administrative and Committee Business
Among other business last night, GWNC Budget Representative Jack Humphreville reported that the city is facing a potential $675 million budget deficit this year, which it will try to make up with a combination of reserve funds, borrowing money, federal relief funds, various departmental savings, and potential staff layoffs — though union negotiations for the police and other departments could make that last option more challenging.
Next, the board confirmed José Tamayo as the board’s new Alternate representative for Area 3 – Country Club Heights.
In Land Use business, the board voted to support an application for a zone variance that would allow medical clinics and fitness studios and/or gyms to rent commercial spaces at The Mansfield development at 5100 Wilshire Blvd. The Board also voted to oppose a Demolition Pre-Inspection Application for a residential property at 834 N. June St...and it voted to write a Community Impact Statement in support of a motion introduced by outgoing City Council Member David Ryu, which would revise the city’s Transit Oriented Communities development guidelines to require more affordable units in TOC projects buit in mid- and high-priced market areas.
In Outreach Committee business, the board voted to hold a Civics 101 town hall educational event on the workings of LA County government on January 11. Speakers will include representatives from County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office and the LA County Department of Public Health.
The board also supported a motion from its Ad Hoc Committee on the city’s proposed Digital Media Policy, to approve a formal comment letter on the policy, crafted by several current and former board secretaries. In the letter, the board/authors say the proposed policy is more proscriptive than supportive for board members, contend that it does not allow board members their constitutional right to freedom of speech in personal communcations outside board business, and request that the current draft policy be discarded and the city start over to create a new draft of the policy.
Next, Elections Committee chair Brian Curran reported that althought GWNC and DONE have both already held candidate information sessions for the upcoming GWNC board elections (candidate registration is currently open until December 28, and the election will be held in March), DONE will hold yet another information session, via Zoom, this coming Saturday, December 12, at 9:00 a.m. To register for the session, see https://www.eventbrite.com/e/candidate-info-session-202021-neighborhood-council-elections-on-zoom-tickets-129791310303. Finally in election business, the Board also approved holding a Special Meeting to discuss and figure out how to allocate its budget for candidate recruitment for the upcoming election.
And last among major discussions last night, an unagendized board member proposal to donate $500 to each of the GWNC area’s LAUSD elementary schools was tabled, after some discussion, until it can be agendized and discussed more fully at a future committee or board meeting.
The next GWNC Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 13, at 7 p.m., via Zoom.