The purpose of Neighborhood Councils is to “include representatives of the many diverse interests in communities and shall have an advisory role on issues of concern to the neighborhood.” (Charter, art. IX, § 900.) Neighborhood Council representation is not limited to residents or citizens but is “open to everyone who lives, works or owns real property in the neighborhood and also to those who declare a stake in the neighborhood as a community interest stakeholder, defined as a person who affirms a substantial and ongoing participation within the neighborhood council boundaries and who may be in a community organization such as, but not limited to, educational, non-profit and/or religious organizations.” (Los Angeles Administrative Code § 22.811(a)(2).) Under the Neighborhood Council system, one individual could be a stakeholder in a number of Neighborhood Councils and the system is premised on the participation of many types of stakeholders.
Neighborhood Council elections are administered by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (“Department”) and the City Clerk pursuant to Los Angeles Administrative Code section 20.36. The Department and City Clerk have full authority “to promulgate any election procedure, rule, regulation, or issue any directive or moratorium necessary for that portion of the elections they administer, including the promulgation of any procedures, rules, regulations, directives, or moratoria for the resolution of any election challenge.” (Los Angeles Administrative Code § 20.36(b).) Neighborhood Councils are not required to conduct elections. Board members could be selected through any process chosen by the board. However, if the Neighborhood Council chooses an election then the election is conducted in accordance with the Department and City Clerk rules.
The California Election Code is not applicable to Neighborhood Council elections. The California Election Code specifically details who are candidates, who are eligible voters, the types of offices that are elected, the days of the election, etc. (See e.g., California Election § 1 et seq.) Local officials for purposes of the City’s municipal elections are set forth Charter section 200 and do not include the board members who volunteer for the City’s Neighborhood Councils. The Neighborhood Council system is broad and invites participation beyond being an adult citizen or a resident which are requirements for voting under the State election code. (California Election Code § 2000.) Please also note that the Secretary of State directs all Neighborhood Council election issues to the Department. (See http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/additional-elections-information/voter-complaint/.)
The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution prevents the City from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” While the State’s Election Code is not applicable to Neighborhood Councils and Neighborhood Council elections are administered under Los Angeles Administrative Code section 20.36(b), it is important to remember that if the State’s Election Code were to be made applicable to the Neighborhood Council system, it may result in a violation of the equal protection clause. Since stakeholders in the Neighborhood Council system are not limited to citizens and residents, applying the State’s Election Code to Neighborhood Councils would mean that the vote of a citizen and resident is being diluted because of the many other stakeholders who are currently allowed to participate under the Neighborhood Council system. For example, a person could live, work and be a member of a community organization all within a neighborhood. Under this example, that person would have the ability to cast numerous votes for each of the person’s stakeholder interests. However, if you compare that person to someone who only lives in the neighborhood, while both individuals live in the area, one receives more votes than the other because he or she is more active. Thus, if the State’s Election Code were to be made applicable to the Neighborhood Council system it would require limiting the system to adult citizens and residents.
Neighborhood Councils have been advised that they have the ability to allocate seats to certain stakeholder groups and limit the ability of voters to vote for certain seats, with the caveat that there must be at least one seat where a stakeholder could cast a vote. (Los Angeles Administrative Code § 22.810.1(b)(2)(C)(iii)(1).) Proper allocation of board seats and the eligibility to vote for those seats by the board prevents any single group from impacting the entire election of the board. In addition, Neighborhood Councils are also free expand or add additional restrictions regarding the conduct of an election in their bylaws to address any conduct during an election that creates concern for the board. We understand after the elections are concluded, the Department anticipates hosting a series of townhalls to receive and obtain input on improving the system in the future.