West Adams Neighborhood Council Election Drama

The West Adams Neighborhood Council (WANC) race was full of surprises and gave life to the saying that all politics are local. Starting from the call for candidates right down to the very last hour of voting at the polls, it was a bitter and strongly contested race between the old guard determined, to hang on to power and disgruntled stakeholders determined to share a piece of the pie. When the dust settled and the last vote was counted, three out of the six incumbents lost their seats by a few votes, including the previous President and Vice President. The reaction of the community is mixed. Some are glad to see change and excited to see what will happen. Others are somewhat disappointed and concerned about the priorities of the new board.

The drama began in April, 2011 when Bright Star Schools, which operates five charter schools throughout Los Angeles, came to Kimani Black, a deputy of CD10, to request a meeting with the council office and WANC. One of Bright Star’s schools, Stella Academy, had received a $24,000,000 bond apportionment from the State of California, which was part of a voter approved effort to fund new facilities for charter schools. Bright Star wanted to place the school on the property where the old military recruiting building (on Rodeo east of La Brea) now stands. They were interested in meeting with the community to begin a dialogue and address concerns. In early May, Mr. Black organized a meeting between Bright Star and four members of the WANC executive board at Councilman Wesson's office.

The executive board expressed several concerns:

Was there enough room for a physical education program? 

Bright Star: Yes. The current building is larger than the building that will be built thus opening up space for athletics. They would also be getting permits from their neighbor, the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex, to use some of their facilities. They would also be creating a large multi-purpose room and gymnasium on the property.

What about parking congestion?

Bright Star: The downsizing of the current building would allow for a substantial parking area in the front of the lot. This area will be constructed in order to have efficient flow of traffic.

Stella's program already has various day lengths for its students which allows "staggering" to occur both during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up. This spreading out of traffic flow will largely mitigate the impact.

As part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process (lead by LAUSD), Bright Star had contracted a traffic consultant to perform a traffic impact analysis that assumes 650 students, which would have been shared with the community when completed. They would also be required to work with the Dept. of Transportation to come up with a traffic mitigation plan.

There were concerns and rumors that Dorsey High would be developing their own K-12 program.

Bright Star: This was unlikely and just a rumor. It has since been confirmed that it isn't happening.

The Board also expressed concerns that African-American children should be well represented at the school.

Bright Star responded by pointing out they were a public school and could not pursue a quota and that enrollment was open to all children. If demands exceeded available seats, children were chosen by lottery.

(There were later concerns about fighting between Stella and Dorsey students at the park. Bright Star pointed out that rivalry between middle school children and high school children was unlikely and there were not going to be any high school children at Stella.)

A few weeks after this meeting, in late May of 2011, Bright Star did a presentation before the West Adams Neighborhood Council Board. Although they were hoping for a discussion and vote, the Board decided to hold off. Bright Star subsequently sent several emails and voice messages to the President hoping to be put on the June agenda, but never heard back. They continued pressing to be put on the agenda in July without receiving a response. Tyler Baier, Bright Star’s project manager, went to the July meeting and during public comments asked to be put on the agenda for the August meeting. After a follow up call to the President, they finally got the go ahead for the August meeting, where there was a brief discussion and a vote. They lost the vote by a clear majority.

When they also lost support by one vote from LAUSD, Bright Star let go of the attempt to build a school at the Rodeo location and actively pursued other opportunities in the area. "We could easily go to South Central or up to the Valley but this area is the community we want to serve" said Mr. Baier. After three years, Bright Star was unable to identify any appropriate sites, while the Rodeo location continued to be available and the owner continued to express interest in selling the property to them. So at the beginning of 2014, Bright Star went back to the West Adams Neighborhood Council and presented to a hopefully more sympathetic Board. They also brought about 100 supporters of Stella Academy school, including parents and staff. They had at least 220 of their students living within WANC borders. Once again, no interest or much discussion by the board, no action was taken and the issue again became stale.

Today, Bright Star continues to look for other locations and the space on Rodeo is in the process of being sold to someone else. If Bright Star cannot find a location by May of 2015, the money goes back to the State.

But there was a consequence to the Board. Realizing the influence of Neighborhood Councils in their community, and frustrated by the behavior of the Board's leadership, several people decided to run for the board in the recent elections. 

On Election Day parents, teachers and participants of Bright Star came out in their Bright Star T-shirts to vote. There were accusations that some of these people came from outside the community but DONE explained that anyone who had a stake in the community was eligible to vote and parents of the students were considered to have a stake in the community. When the votes were in, the assistant principal for Stella, Daryl Garris, and two teachers, Stephanie Gomez and Erin Kleiner were on the new Board. A student's parent, Maria Salinas, volunteered to take over the position of youth representative when that member stepped down. Elbert Preston who had held the position of President lost by four votes and Clint Simmons the Vice President lost by three, business representative Abdullah Sharif another controversial board member and owner of the liquor store on the corner of Adams and West Haven also lost by three votes. Although he did not lose his seat to a Bright Star candidate he lost to another business owner, Jessica Fischbein, who felt she could better represent the business community.

Members of the outgoing Executive Committee tried an end run before the elections of the new executive committee took place at the first meeting of their new board. They called for an emergency meeting to challenge the behavior of an old board member.  Would getting rid of her allow a seat to open and one of the old guard to apply for her seat?  But the Department of Neighborhood  Empowerment (DONE) who oversees Neighborhood Councils, squashed that attempt. The ousted members no longer had any authority. 

After five years of representing their communities, both ex-President Elbert Preston and ex-Vice President Clint Simmons bid farewell as board members at their final meeting. Both have stated that they will remain active in the community and will look forward to working with the new board in making our community better. The board elected Steven Meeks for President and Maria Norris as Vice President.

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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