Dozens of Venice Neighborhood Council candidates on Thursday expressed few differences in addressing Venice’s ongoing issues – like homelessness, transportation and development – but unanimously agreed on striving to resolve the community’s divisiveness.
While the three hour debate allowed some candidates to present cogent arguments and ask their opponents questions, the majority – over 40 people competing for 13 community officer positions – were confined to 15-second answers that prevented them from elaborating on any one topic.
The 44 candidates running for the position, including two factual basis community officers – people that may have a vested interest in Venice even if they do not live or work in it – were split into three groups.
Moderator Ivan Spiegel, the appointed non-voting parliamentarian on the VNC, asked candidates a variety of questions ranging from pertinent, such as parking, budget cuts and affordable housing, to banal, like the candidate’s favorite Venice shop and the last time they swam in the ocean.
All candidates encouraged Venetians to bike as much as possible to ease traffic congestions and parking problems. Some suggested other alternatives as well.
“We need to look at off-site parking, maybe around the 90 Freeway, and use shuttles,” said Sevan Gerard, a firefighter in Venice.
Justin Henry, an 18-year Venice resident, also recommended Venice consider additional limited parking times.
Candidates were most concerned with homelessness and crime in Venice, as well as bridging the gap between residents.
“I, as a small business owner, with what’s left of the middle class, really want to work with people in my position who are starting businesses ... so we can prevent people from living on the streets,” said Melissa Diner.
Max Sloan, a UCLA student and the youngest candidate, said he wants to involve younger Venetians in government affairs, and work as a liaison between generations. Likewise, Tommy Walker, the only African-American candidate, is running to give a voice to Oakwood residents. Erin Sullivan-Ward said she represents mothers and families and thinks Venice could be a safer community.
Venice Neighborhood Council President
Richard Duncan is running against incumbent Linda Lucks. During the debate, they shared more commonalities than differences.
However, Duncan wants more enforcement on the Ocean Front Walk and to give police officers more autonomy and discretion in handling issues that may arise.
“I have guys sitting outside my window drunk and screaming, often times until 2,3 o’clock in the morning, just to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning and start all over ... [They’re] screaming profanities, harassing citizens and tourists, and that’s not right,” Duncan said. “We need to encourage the police to take action when they see something instead of waiting to be called.”
He wants to reopen the boardwalk, but only with constant police and resident enforcement.
Although Lucks is disappointed that the boardwalk is closed, when she brought the issue up to L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, he told her that the reality is that there were not enough officers to patrol the area. She also pointed out that Duncan seemed focused solely on the boardwalk issue and is not well-rounded enough to lead all Venetians.
Duncan felt that Luck’s involvement as a consultant for St. Joseph Center, a nonprofit that assists the homeless, skewed her judgement in dealing with homelessness in Venice and may even be a conflict of interest in her duties as president of VNC.
Lucks fired back saying that there has never been a direct conflict with St. Joseph, and in a few cases she has abstained from voting on issues that presented a financial opportunity.
Five candidates are competing for outreach officer, one of whom did not attend the Thursday debate.
The incumbent, Matt Kline, touted his accomplishments, such as increasing the number of volunteers and coordinating the Silicon Beach town hall in April. In tough financial times, he proposes reaching out to the dozens of prosperous tech companies in Venice to help meet budget shortfalls.
Beth Allyn, one of the challengers, said there should be a significant effort to include minority communities that may feel disenfranchised from Venice government, suggesting that some council meeting times could accommodate those who work evening jobs.
Kline said he has been working on a system that will record and live-stream meetings for those who cannot attend, and will allow residents to ask live questions online.
Another challenger, Mariana Aguilar thinks the outreach officer should raise more public awareness on other committee’s plans, especially the influential Land Use and Planning Committee.
Spiegel, lamenting the fact that few black and Latino residents ever attend the meetings, asked candidates how they plan to remedy the issue.
“It doesn’t matter what color or religion you are, it depends on the issue,” said Gogi Overhoff.
She said despite people’s difference, it will be passion over a certain topic, such as safety, that will rally the community.
Chair of Land Use and Planning Committee
Three candidates are vying for the chair position on a board that has significant clout in Venice as it reviews often contentious developments.
Two people, Sue Kaplan and Matthew Schildkret are challenging the incumbent, Jake Kaufman, who has served as chair for the last two years.
“The policies and procedures of the Land Use Committee should really represent the vested values of the citizens that have children here, the 30-somethings that are working here,” Schildkret said. “And I’d like to see policies that really help invigorate the community.”
Schildkret has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan and has worked in the Obama administration as a sustainability consultant.
Developments near the coast must abide by the Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan, a set of rules that limits developers but tends to be vague in defining the character of new construction and therefore is often interpreted differently.
“These documents were written by our neighbors,” Kaplan said. “I think there is flexibility in it, I think it can be improved and we could do a lot more.”
In light of the recent uproar over the boom in several new buildings in Venice, that some say are incongruous with existing bungalows, the council recently created a Mass, Scale and Character Ad-hoc Committee to evaluate new projects.
“I’d like to see the subjective nature of the code clarified,” Kaufman said.
The communications officer is mostly responsible for maintaing the VNC website, database and posting minutes from meetings.
Two candidates are running: Jed Pauker and Helen Stotler.
Pauker has served on LPUC and as community officer, and said he has updated the VNC website several times and has a solid understanding of HTML language.
While Stotler admitted that she has never run a website for an organization, she does upkeep her own blog regularly.
The only stark difference between the two candidates is that Stotler thinks the VNC mailing list database should be kept strictly confidential, so in-house with the communications officers, while Pauker thinks that a select few on the VNC should have access to it.
Vice President Marc Salzberg, Secretary Kristopher Valentine and Treasurer Hugh Harrison are running unopposed. To learn more about the candidates, visit the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and see how the candidates responded to Patch’s questions.
Elections will be held Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Westminster Elementary School, located at 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd.