A recent story in the Los Feliz Ledger discussed the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Affordability and raised questions about the committee’s formation, leadership, and process. Specifically, the story intimated that this ad hoc committee was “meeting illegally” and may have violated the Brown Act – a California law enacted to support transparency in government matters. By focusing through this lens, the Ledger’s story unfairly tarnishes the Herculean, volunteer work of Los Feliz residents whose earnest desires are to make our neighborhood a better place for its current and future residents. That said, the story also presents a unique opportunity to shine a light on the council’s work and to encourage even more of us to become civically engaged.
The Los Feliz Neighborhood Council was first certified in 2002 as the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council and, since that time, Los Feliz residents have logged thousands of volunteer hours in public service with this organization. We don’t do this work for the pay, because there is none; we do this because we love Los Feliz. And the council works hard to conduct its business in a way that is fully transparent and engages as many stakeholders as possible. Stakeholder engagement is a primary objective that we take very seriously.
The idea for an improved, more formalized approach to address questions of affordable housing in Los Feliz, particularly as it relates to rent-stabilized housing, low-income units, and  Ellis Act and the Vermont/Western Station Neighborhood Area Plan, was first agendized and discussed at the July 18, 2017 meeting of the Los Feliz NC Governing Board.[i] It was at this meeting that the idea of an ad hoc committee was first suggested, by the council’s rules and governance officer.[ii] The board referred the question to the council’s Planning Committee, which took up the item at its September 6, 2017 meeting[iii] and ultimately returned the item to the board with the recommendation to create an ad hoc committee.
The board once again discussed formation of an ad hoc committee at its September 19, 2017 meeting and voted to postpone a final vote on creation of any committee until the board’s next meeting, in order to allow time to conduct outreach and to solicit citizen stakeholder involvement and committee leadership.[iv] An October 10, 2017 post on our website[v] and an October 12, 2017 email to the entire Los Feliz NC mailing list[vi] encouraged interested stakeholders to contact the council to state their interest in joining and/or chairing an ad hoc committee. Nearly two dozen people responded indicating their interest, with two of them stating an interest in chairing the committee: Benton Heimsath and Michael Martin. Both Benton and Michael appeared before the board at its October 17, 2017 meeting, stated their stakeholder interests, described their professional backgrounds, and took questions from the board. Ultimately, the board voted unanimously for the committee’s creation and to appoint these two individuals to serve as its co-chairs.[vii]
The committee first met on Wednesday, December 13, 2017.[viii] In advance of this meeting, every individual who indicated interest in this effort was included in the committee contact list and encouraged to participate. In the days leading up to that first meeting, the Los Feliz NC posted information about it, further encouraging stakeholder involvement through social media sites including Next Door,[ix] Facebook, and Instagram.[x] These are the online tools available to the neighborhood council to get information out to an extensive reach of stakeholders, and we utilized them all.
Photos from the committee’s December 13 meeting were shared on the neighborhood council’s Facebook page, noting the large turnout. The largest standing stakeholder committee of the neighborhood council is around a dozen members; yet the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Affordability was attended by more than 20 community stakeholders. In order to further highlight this committee’s efforts, I devoted the bulk of my January 2018 Los Feliz Ledger column to discussing it, its purpose, and the community’s demonstrated interest in it.[xi] From its formation to today, the ad hoc committee has been widely publicized with all invited to participate.
The Ledger story states that the Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Affordability “has been meeting illegally.” In support of this claim, The Ledger cites guidance from the Los Angeles City Attorney directing ad hoc committees containing non-Boardmembers to comply with the Brown Act.[xii] As volunteers, most of whom have served fewer than four years on this Board, understanding and interpreting every single one of the rules that govern and may be implicated in any aspect of our work is a challenge, and this specific guidance was offered ten years ago and was not part of the many trainings we take in order to ensure compliance with numerous rules and regulations.
At the October 17, 2017 board meeting where the board voted unanimously to create this ad hoc committee, I asserted that ad hoc committees are not subject to the Brown Act.[xiii] I was not completely off the mark – what I didn’t realize is that the City Attorney distinguishes between ad hoc committees comprised solely with Boardmembers and those that include non-Boardmembers. Regrettably, neither our rules and governance officer, who was present during this discussion, nor any of the 12 other board members present at that meeting, corrected me on this issue. So, prior to the Ledger’s inquiry on this matter, myself and other Boardmembers were unaware that there was even a question concerning the Brown Act. And, given our numerous efforts to raise awareness about the committee through emails, social media, and announcements at meetings, and the great deal of community interest in it, we were not engaged in any effort to intentionally violate the Brown Act by hiding the committee’s work from the community.
Since its first meeting in December 2017, the Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Affordability has met two more times: on February 15 and May 17.[xiv] Additionally, committee co-chair, Benton Heimsath, provided an update on the work of the committee at the board’s February 20, 2018 meeting.[xv] The typical challenges of finding good space and best times to meet, which are standard issues with an effort like this, have been challenges for this committee as well. That said, the co-chairs have remained committed to seeing the process through, and are committed to ensuring that Brown Act and posting requirements will be met.
Questions have been raised, specifically: what has this ad hoc committee been doing? And, will it comply with the City Attorney guidance now that we are all aware? The answer to the second question is undeniably YES; and the answer to the first question is that the ad hoc committee co-chairs have provided meeting documents on the neighborhood council’s public drive, which is available for anyone to view, anytime.[xvi] This online page will be updated with additional information, including future meeting agendas and minutes, in order to ensure that both the spirit and the letter of the law are met and exceeded.
No formal recommendations have been made by this committee and no actions have been taken by the board beyond the committee’s creation last October. As the City Attorney has recently instructed specifically on this matter, in order to bring the work of the committee into compliance with the Brown Act, the next meeting of the ad hoc committee will include a discussion of its work to date, allowing ample opportunity for members of the public to be as fully engaged and informed as they wish.
If you have read this far, thank you for your interest in this subject and for taking the time. I have expressed my gratitude privately to the members of the ad hoc committee for their continued involvement, and I want to express to our stakeholders that we are here to serve you. If the issue of housing affordability matters to you, we welcome your involvement in this ad hoc committee now and always. That’s what we’re here for.
The neighborhood council continually seeks to be more capable and competent in ensuring that our community is fully engaged in the discussions to come around housing. We believe that every stakeholder deserves excellent representation and a seat at the table. To the extent that we have failed in fully understanding our obligations, we apologize, and we are addressing these matters as quickly as we can. We hope you will join us and offer your time, input, and effort as we continue to pursue the important work of making Los Feliz an even better place to work, play, and live.
Luke H. Klipp, President
Los Feliz Neighborhood Council
[i] July 18, 2017 LFNC Board Meeting minutes available online here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw5EUPbMf2ocMEZjVnRZY2Q2amM/view?usp=sharing
[ii] From the minutes: “Mauceri shared that this may be better tasked to an ad hoc committee.”
[iii] Planning Committee’s September 6, 2017 agenda available online here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B37j0FETOrJfakdLdW5BMnB3a28/view?usp=sharing
[iv] Per the September 19, 2017 LFNC Board Meeting minutes available online here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wSGGS6GWpZOtYA05Xws9FjxDFES4NfeM/view?usp=sharing “MOTION: To create an ad hoc committee to to [sic] recommend a set of guidelines and actions related to the LFNC’s positions on affordable housing, low-income units, Rent-Stabilized Ordinance (RSO) units, and the Ellis Act, including considerations of SNAP, and engage the public on chairpersonship and return to the Board in the October meeting (Deutsch, DiGiandomenico accepts). Motion carried, 17-0.”
[v] October 10, 2017 webpage solicitation available online here: http://losfeliznc.org/2017/10/10/join-the-ad-hoc-committee-on-housing-development/
[vi] Copy of email sent to neighborhood council stakeholder database available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dLRoB7mux9HNzB8oSatIbBtgoLsnenLb/view?usp=sharing
[vii] From October 17, 2017 LFNC Board Meeting minutes available online here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wSGGS6GWpZOtYA05Xws9FjxDFES4NfeM/view?usp=sharing “MOTION: Create an ad hoc committee to recommend a set of guidelines and actions related to the LFNC’s positions on affordable housing, low-income units, Rent-Stabilized Ordinance (RSO) units, and the Ellis Act. This committee shall be open to members of the PZHP Committee, Los Feliz stakeholders, and members of the LFNC Governing Board (Deutsch, Kim seconds). …
AMENDED MOTION: To include at the end of the motion “and appoint Michael Martin and Benton Heimsath as co-chairs.” (Deutsch, Kim accepts)
ACTION: Motion carried, 14-0.”
[viii] Ad Hoc Committee December 13, 2017 Meeting agenda online here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DYqImmgrIv2-2lA-sg536DDnYa2jvvRQ/view?usp=sharing
[ix] https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=72534764
[x] https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=Los%20Feliz%20Neighborhood%20Council%20%09%20Ad%20Hoc%20Housing%20Affordability%20Committee
[xi] http://www.losfelizledger.com/article/los-feliz-neighborhood-council-a-new-approach/
[xii] https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8EUAEKXO4HBZmFtRkY5N01vVkk/view?usp=sharing
[xiii] Comments not shown in the minutes, but are clear in the meeting’s audio recording, which is available upon request.
[xiv] Agendas available online here: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1dcKTFL40JINTT9FtQuVlezoEpBeQYgZ0 Made available on the Google Drive following the Ledger’s initial inquiry
[xv] From the February 20, 2018 LFNC Board Meeting minutes available online here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bztivPn0iQGFctbhWsI_tECVInsU4Qsv/view?usp=sharing “Ad Hoc Housing Affordability – Co-Chair Benton Heimsath shared an update from the last meeting. He shared that the committee has created sub-groups to address specific topics and report back to the committee as a whole. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for the third week of March. Deutsch praised the co-chairs’ work on the ad hoc committee.”
[xvi] Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Affordability folder in the LFNC Google Drive available online here https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1CmaFHhRMWG1-7c9JfSICOkhvl56l3nsQ