Politics

Panel recommends investigation into Skid Row Neighborhood Council election outcome

File: A banner supporting the Skid Row Neighborhood Council hangs outside the James M. Wood Community Center on Thursday, April 6, 2017.
File: A banner supporting the Skid Row Neighborhood Council hangs outside the James M. Wood Community Center on Thursday, April 6, 2017.
Matt Bloom

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After a five-hour public forum held Wednesday night, a city review panel unanimously recommended the city either grant Skid Row its own neighborhood council or a hold a new election without online voting.

Last month, downtown Los Angeles voters shut down an effort to establish a neighborhood council for Skid Row’s thousands of homeless residents. In the end, the Skid Row effort lost by just 60 votes.

But Skid Row advocates argue that votes cast through online voting were influenced by a rule-breaking email campaign and should be disqualified.

The three challenges against the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council claim board members of the downtown council knowingly interfered in the election through a “front organization” called Unite Downtown L.A., which blasted anti-Skid Row council emails to voters and used the downtown council’s logo and P.O. Box address.

“They definitely need to be disqualified. They need to be punished to the fullest extent,” Skid Row advocate General Jeff Page said to the panel on Wednesday. “We’re talking total irresponsibility and neglect.”

Patti Berman, the downtown council president, also spoke at Wednesday’s panel. She said neither she or any of her board members were responsible for the Unite Downtown L.A. emails. She argued that a third party utilized her council's logo to sway voters. 

"No one would like to find out more than I would would like to find out who the hell did this," she said. "It’s caused an awful lot of problems." 

The panel, which is made up of representatives from non-downtown councils, upheld all three challenges from Skid Row advocates, but it does not possess the power to overturn the results of last month’s election.

Rather, it recommended the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment open a formal investigation into the matter. Department officials now have 60 days to decide whether they will proceed with an investigation or a new election.

On Thursday, a spokesperson told KPCC the department had received the panel's recommendation and would begin looking into the matter this week. 

The effort to establish a Skid Row Neighborhood Council has lasted nearly three years, according to Page. He told KPCC Wednesday’s recommendation was a boost to the effort, but acknowledged the process had taken a toll on the community. 

"It's extremely exhaustive in terms of the pressure and the demands it puts on our community members," he said. "Many of which are struggling to find housing or find food."