A Broken System Whose Time is Over

By Laura Velkei

The last few months have been brutal, painful and beyond disheartening.  Knowing this, for Christmas, one of my besties sent me a bottle of Traverse City Bourbon.  It seemed apropos I should pull that out and sip a few while I write this.

I’ve had three of these so far (chasing it with a very large glass of iced tea).

I have been a community organizer, advocate, and true believer my whole life.  Those that know and love me are baffled why I continue to subject myself to the unmitigated BS that is my life every day.  They put up with my Norma Rae tirades because they understand that my passion is real and that my word means everything.

I ran for the HCNC 4 ½ years ago because we were under siege in the Arts District.  When people hear me talk about it now, they look at me with this sort of “why are you advocating for that booshgie neighborhood”.  I’ll tell you.  The place that I loved was Al’s Bar and walking in the deserted streets of the triangle; not a sound coming from anywhere.  I remember thinking to myself that the stillness was almost deafening.  I would head home with my beau and depending how much spirit we ingested would ride around the loft on our bikes.  At the time it was the entire first floor of the Binford lofts.  My dining haunts were Suehiro in Little Tokyo, Gorky’s, Phllipe’s and Cocola’s.

After two years of no sleep coming off he Obama campaign I chose to stay in LA rather than head to DC and I wound up buying a loft in yup, the Arts District.  I found other true believers there and my journey into City politics began in 2009.

I started to see people making decisions for us that I did not agree with and did not like and I started pushing back, bringing a herd of people with me.  It was then that I decided to run for our Neighborhood Council.

I spent two years working out of AAVREP (African American Voter Registration, Education, & Participation Project) for Obama and for other candidates training and working with activists.  I knew that the NC’s were modeled after Mark Ridley-Thomas’s (MRT) Empowerment Congress and that was good enough for me as it was his “house” I had spent the last two years working from.

It is one thing to be a campaigner, and it is a whole other thing to be the “politician”.  But I bit my lip and did it talking to colleagues in Little Tokyo and coordinating my efforts with my amazing friends and colleagues in the Arts District.  As a result I won my seat.  My colleague in little Tokyo June Berk beat my number by one vote.  I was proud and grateful to everyone and went to work to make sure I was worthy of everyone’s support.

As you do this work you become more and more shocked at the depths people go to control others and maintain their power and the NC system is no different.

The vision from 15 years ago that was the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment is gone and has been replaced by the Department of Disenfranchisement and Corruption.  Fraud is perpetuated on communities daily and allowed to continue unchecked.  No accountability, no recourse.  Bullying, no action, falsifying documents, no action, voter fraud, no action (and claims of online voting success).

Incompetence is so prevalent in the department that just about every aspect of responsibility has been completely stripped from DONE all under the radar.  It seems all that’s left to “f” up is the subdivision process and they’re going out in style.

I gave public comment at the last two HENC Committee meetings. At the first  meeting in January, DONE was trying to ram thru online voting touting its success and a 1.8 million dollar increase to funding to pay for 21 staffers and an Assistant GM to increase the “policing” of the NC’s.  At the meeting, as GM Grayce Liu begged for her funding, it became clear no one had a copy of any of the materials including the budget being voted on.  It was pointed out by another NC Board member also there for public comment that DONE was in violation of the Brown Act; the very thing she wanted funding to police with!  Would you trust someone with almost two million dollars to train twenty one new staffers when the GM and her henchman can’t even get it right themselves?

I pointed out that throwing money to bad and clearly worse was a terrible idea and then stated that only this management group would consider the disenfranchisement of a 70% African American community a success.  (More on online voting later)

At the 2nd meeting we addressed the subdivision process and online voting yet again. Council Member Ryu was a gentleman and gave us a longer opportunity to speak.  Colleagues from Westwood who had been hijacked by a similar failed application process pushed thru by Mike Fong also testified.

What everyone needs to clearly understand at DONE and in the City is that NC’s are not children sitting in these positions.   Most are professionals who care deeply for their communities and their city.  What we need is for processes to be streamlined, fraud acknowledged and removed and butting the hell out.

I spoke to a CPA the other day who I let vent for 30 minutes at the incompetence he experienced from the funding staff as the treasurer of his NC.  The stories are endless and are just beginning here.

So my question is what the hell does it take to get these people fired??  Apparently voter fraud, falsifying documents and lying to constituents gets you a new Neighborhood Council?

Mr. Mayor, apparently you are the ruler of this incompetence and fraud.  Perhaps less campaigning for President and more paying attention to your own backyard?

If you want to get involved and contribute your stories to put daylight on this trainwreck of a system, sign up here.

Our NC is under siege as is the whole NC system and we need all of you to save it.

BONC “Tribunal” Dates:


Board of Neighborhood Commissioners

Monday, March 12

Castelar Elementary School

840 Yale Street,

Los Angeles, CA  90012


Westwood NC

Board of Neighborhood Commissioners

Tuesday, March 13

Weyburn Commons

11020 Weyburn Avenue,

Los Angeles, CA  90024

6:00 pm

Laura Velkei is the former CA State Director of Volunteers for Obama for America 2008.  She is the co-founder of Arts District Community Council LA and is 3rd Vice President, Communications Director and Chair of both the Land Use and Bylaws Committee for the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council