Why So Few Candidates for Community Council Election?
By SUE PASCOE
With only two contested races (out of nine Representative races) in the upcoming Pacific Palisades Palisades Community Council election–one for the Highlands seat, the other for the At-large position–some residents are thinking, Why bother to vote?
Democracy only works when there is a choice. When people won’t run for office and there is no choice, you get a “government” that doesn’t represent you.
At the July 26 Community Council meeting, Chair George Wolfberg was asked why more people weren’t running, and he said, “Ask them.”
So, I did. I reached out to about 20 people in different organizations–at the grocery stores, the gym, the park and on the street–and promised them anonymity if they would reveal why they didn’t run or wouldn’t want to be part of the Council. And I got an earful.
Complaints were mainly divided into four areas: 1. Lack of listening to the community; 2. Not wanting to volunteer where it might be unpleasant; 3. PPCC sells out to “development;” and 4. Problems with the by-laws and the executive committee.
- Lack of true representation and that many of the same people have run the PPCC for years.
“Nobody listens to us there,” one said. “Those people have no connection to the people they represent. They vote their own beliefs, rather than finding out what the people in their Area want.”
Another agreed, only more strongly: “Most of the representatives are only in it for themselves.”
“It’s a fiefdom,” one said. Another commented, “They [PPCC] just keep recycling the same people over and over, which means there are not different points of views.”
“They are a group tightly controlled by small number of people,” another wrote.
- Being on the Council, because of its makeup, would be unpleasant.
One wrote, “The Council is a self-serving political hole. I get more done at the DMV. I have better places I can put my energy.”
A woman said that maybe people didn’t want to run “because it’s so contentious. You have to deal with difficult people at work, why would you want to volunteer your spare time and have to deal with difficult people where you might be attacked for your views?”
Another offered the following insight. “However important the PPCC’s role may be, people have a lack of desire to deal with sometimes petty community politics and often unpleasant people who seem to believe that they can treat their Reps rudely–even though these members are fellow residents and are all volunteers serving the community on their own time.”
“Pacific Palisades went through a transition a few years ago where people became less involved in the community and concentrated on their own homes and virtual social circles,” a person said. “PPCC didn’t evolve to deal with this and lost the new, younger residents. By not reaching out or bringing in fresh, relevant people and ideas, they isolated themselves.”
“I didn’t run,” a woman told me, “because it would be a waste of my time.”
- Some felt that PPCC sells out to “development.”
During the Caruso Palisades Village hearings, and more recently the Highlands eldercare facility debates, one resident noted, “The symbiotic relationship that some on the council had with Councilman Mike Bonin and his desire to further the interests of developers at the expense of the quality of life, turned people off.”
Another person pointed out that “the council never did anything to try to enforce the requests they made of Caruso, specifically regarding what he would ‘give for Village beautification’ in exchange for community support of his ‘land grab’ on Sunset.” (The City vacated the alley between Swarthmore and Monument and gave a small park–between the Mobil station and the bank–and a lane of Sunset to Caruso for no compensation.)
This person continued, noting that those same people are still on the Council and have not pressed for any money for beautification from Caruso. “They accept the attempt by the PRIDE group as a fulfillment of this request, but Caruso’s people have made it very clear that they will only pay for plans…they will NOT pay for implementation of any of the beautification project.”
- Others cited current by-laws and the last executive committee election as reasons not to run.
A resident suggested that the Area representatives should be elected first and they in turn could elect the new executive board. Currently, the executive board candidates are voted upon by the entire council membership every June, and the Area representatives are elected in August every two years.
This resident said, “In my opinion, the most important issue is the timing for the board electing the executive committee (EC). I cannot understand why the EC can’t be selected AFTER the new board is in place on October 1. Selecting the EC three months before the new board takes ‘office’ makes zero sense.
“For me, however, it turned out to be a good thing because the newly elected EC board made my decision to NOT participate on PPCC very easy,” the man said.
Several people commented that most of the PPCC ‘work’ gets done by the EC, behind closed doors. The Council, unlike a certified Neighborhood Council, does not have to observe the Brown Act.
Another person suggested that there should be term limits, either sequential or cumulative, especially for officers. “People might feel more inclined to step up, knowing they can participate, have a chance to serve at various levels, but wouldn’t be expected to be there for the long haul, which can be daunting.”
Another person felt that there should be a conflict-of- interest provision in the by-laws.
Yet ultimately, as one person pointed out, there’s a flip side to all these complaints about the Community Council. “Too many people in our town sit back, complain and don’t step up to do the work.”
That’s the call for action for those who feel dissatisfied about the political leadership in Pacific Palisades. Residents, email your representative (pacpalicc.org). Look at the upcoming agenda, which Wolfberg has promised to post 72 hours ahead of time, and if you have an opinion about an upcoming item, email your rep (and cc Wolfberg) and tell them your position.