Editor’s Note: This is the full version of an opinion piece that appeared in the Daily News.
By Danielle Elliott with Michael Several
Paul Koretz was formally declared the winner of the Council District 5 runoff election on Tuesday – a victory that was not surprising except for the slim margin he won by over community activist David Vahedi.
Koretz was backed by the city’s power structure: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, County Supervisory Yaroslavsky, two local Congressmen, the Board of Realtors and several city unions and others who stand to profit from his time on the Council. He had name recognition, serving 12 years in the State Assembly and as Mayor of West Hollywood. And he outspent his opponent approximately 3 to 1.
But he didn’t win the hearts and minds of nearly half his constituents, particularly homeowners and residents active in trying to make our neighborhoods better.
There were also voter irregularities. Normal polling places were changed at the last minute without notification. Voters were told they were not on the voting role and were not offered provisional ballots. Sixteen precincts were required to vote by mail only and the voters that tried to find a poll to vote only to be turned away.
The closeness of the election says something about the liberal Democratic district and the tenor of the City.
The east side where I live is a mix of residential and commercial – the goal of modern urban planning philosophy.
But city policy, despite the oft-repeated Smart Growth mantra, is causing dramatic changes in the neighborhood.
Little of the new commercial is for the local residents. You don’t see the small markets selling fruits and vegetables and staples or hardware stores or shoe repairs.
They have been displaced by businesses that target people who live outside the area such as restaurants, bars and trendy boutiques, exotic plant shops, and incense and candle stores. These aren’t neighborhood mom and pops. They are owned by outsiders hoping to catch some of the gold from the oversized Grove, Beverly Center and Beverly Connection.
They don’t have the same stake in the neighborhood and attract customers from other areas whose cars clog our streets and take up the limited parking that’s available.
This invasion has given rise to strengthened home owners associations. And it was here that Vahedi had his support. The closeness of the election is a testament to the strength of the home owners associations as a political force.
They are voluntary organizations, community based, that are a bridge between people and their government. They are a countervailing force to the influence that money and connections distort public policy. They are seen by developers and government officials as anti-growth, insular and indifferent to the greater good.
But it is not development that residents oppose. It is the nature of the development and corruption of the development process that angers and frustrates the community.
A voice for disenfranchised residents who are true stakeholders in their communities and leadership in a City Council more committed to political theatre than good public policy is what the people who voted for David Vahedi wanted.
In his June 5, 2009, LATimes blog article Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky wrongly called this resident backlash “Anti-Development Sentiment”. The readily accepted NIMBY terminology disguises the true sentiment of the resident stakeholder—-Anti-Corruption Sentiment. There has been an imbalance in which special interests have used their financial resources to get their way.
The city has created a master plan to control development but routinely grants variances to its own rules for those with political and financial clout, the same people who funded Koretz’ campaign as they did his predecessor Jack Weiss’.
That’s why residents are angry. There are too many liquor licenses, too many large high density buildings being permitted without sufficient infrastructure and not enough parking or attention to what the community wants.
With such a narrow victory, Koretz does not have a mandate to lead. Like Weiss before him, Koretz could continue down the path he has followed and hope to stay in office with the money and support of outside interests.
But he should take note of the trend. Weiss almost faced a recall and a neighborhood activist almost won the May 19 runoff.
The community is getting stronger and hopefully Koretz will reach out to homeowners and community activists and make use part of his team to balance his leadership and fulfill his campaign promise of standing up to special interests.