The Los Angeles City Council agreed Wednesday to tighten the rules for who can vote in neighborhood council elections after complaints that an overly broad definition of community stakeholder had allowed outsiders to manipulate results.
Previously, anyone could vote in a neighborhood council race just by displaying a receipt for a latte from around the corner as proof of having a vested interest in a community — a so-called “Starbucks stakeholder.”
Now, voters must either work, live, own property or hold membership in a community organization within council boundaries. The new language changes the definition from someone who “owns property” to someone who “owns real property.”
About 100 neighborhood councils advise the City Council on issues affecting their communities. A decade ago, the formation of the groups was an attempt to give residents, especially those in the San Fernando Valley, a voice beyond their elected representatives at City Hall.
At the meeting Wednesday, a few members of neighborhood councils voiced opposition to the ordinance, saying that while they generally support it, it would complicate their upcoming election in March.
“We don’t know how this is going to affect our bylaws,” said Gary Aggas, president of the Sun Valley neighborhood council. “I don’t want to confuse my stakeholders.”
The filing period for Sun Valley’s election opens next week. Council members acknowledged that changing the definition could affect the elections, but the ordinance passed unanimously. The change goes into effect in 30 days.
“This is a step we’ve needed to take for a very long time,” said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who called the loose definition a “fundamental problem” with neighborhood councils.
Last year, a neighborhood council election in Eagle Rock turned ugly when some claimed the results had been swayed by people showing up with a receipt for gas or a coffee from the neighborhood as proof that they could vote in the election.
Soon after, City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents that community, proposed the changes to the definition.
“We are putting an end to the Starbucks-stakeholder,” he said at Wednesday’s meeting.