The presidential election may be a week away, but election day came early in Venice and Mar Vista. Both communities held elections on Sunday for their Neighborhood Councils. Hundreds showed up at Westminster Elementary School to cast their votes.
“People in Venice are passion about grassroots representation,” Nick Antonicello said.
He was one of the volunteers, along with Karen Wolfe, who helped register voters and make sure the process ran smoothly. Wolfe, a former Venice Neighborhood Council member, said she wants to help ensure all voices are heard.
“I’ve been worried that as new councils and residents come in that people who’ve been here a long time are going to be forgotten,” said Wolfe who has lived in the area for 15 years. “So I’m involved to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
That is also a concern for Mark Lipman who moved to Venice six years ago.
“It’s all of us working together that makes Venice what it is,” Lipman said. “If you exclude one part of the community, the whole community suffers.”
Lipman said among his chief concerns is affordable housing for all of Venice’s residents. The role of the neighborhood council is a vital one in the area, he said.
“Neighborhood councils are very important in our community because they provide a check on the higher branches of government, not necessarily that they’ll listen to us, but it’s a tool in the toolbox,” Lipman said.
Outgoing Venice Neighborhood Council Board member Cindy Chambers wants locals to realize the importance of the election.
“There’s this misconception that neighborhood councils have no impact on the community, and really it’s the exact opposite,” Chambers said.
She pointed out that the Venice Neighborhood Council is ranked among the top three among all neighborhood councils in Los Angeles County, meaning the council has “a powerful voice with our elected representatives in downtown L.A.,” she said.
Despite this, there are also challenges that are unique to Venice, according to Chambers.
“We’re one of the largest tourist attractions in L.A., but most of that money doesn’t come back into our community,” Chambers said. “That means we do a lot for making the city great, but we get very little in return, and that seems really unfair.”
Just up the road people were also flocking to the middle of Mar Vista farmer’s market to cast their votes for the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council. Organizers hoped having the elections at the farmer’s market for the first time would be advantageous to the process.
“We thought this might generate some new interest, thought we could get a better turnout when people were already here," said volunteer coordinator Tom Ponton.
However, Ponton said nearby vendors told him some walked by the polls questioning why people were voting early for the national, presidential election.
"It was a little confusing with the timing of it," he said.
Voters filled out surveys after their voted, including one about what they would like to see happen at the Santa Monica Airport which was a concern to some of Sunday’s voters.
“I really am very interested in what they’re going to do with the Santa Monica Airport when the lease is up in 2013,” Joyce Simmons said.
She also noted crime, land use and the future of the now closed fire station on Centinela Avenue to be among her chief concerns.
Lambert, who has lived in Mar Vista for 15 years, said she would like to see the fire station be turned into a community center.
“I like the issue of food scraps in green bins like in Santa Monica,” Lambert said.
Empower LA was the organizer for both Neighborhood Council elections.