Neighborhood Council formally protests eviction; Fuentes staffers desert meeting
By: Eddie Rivera, News Editor
In a surprising but impressive display of solidarity and defiance, the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) unanimously voted to officially protest the recent “eviction notice” from the North Valley City Hall (NVCH) that it received last week from LA City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes.
The letter from Fuentes came a few days after a personal meeting between STNC board member Gail Carlson, STNC president Mark Seigel, and Fuentes regarding the office space and other issues, after which Seigel assumed there would be a formal lease agreement signed. Instead, he and the neighborhood council received the notice to vacate and were told to return the keys. Locks were due to be changed on October 15.
In response to the move, the STNC “Phoenix committee” drafted and passed two sharply worded letters to Fuentes and the full LA City Council, both letters essentially stating that the move was illegal and that the motion had been passed by the City Council with “false information.”
The STNC argument is based on the original council motion in April that moved a group of nonprofits into NVCH, and on Fuentes’s claim the same office space was “vacant” and thus could be occupied by the nonprofits. The STNC has occupied a 300-square-foot office space in the building for 11 years, and has been holding its general meetings in the hall’s multipurpose room for just as long.
“The community is outraged that you have been planning our eviction since April 2015,” said the letter to Fuentes. “It is inexcusable that you omitted the Office Space Sharing Acknowledgement with the STNC from your motions before the LA City Council . . . which incorrectly identifies vacant space.
“Since the STNC has occupied and utilized NVCH since 2004 to serve the community, the Councilman should have shared his plans for NVCH with the community, specifically new leases offered to LA Family Housing and LA Conservation Corps.”
The letter continued, “We demand that the Office Space Sharing Acknowledgement of October 2004 be honored and that the terms be followed by Council District 7, City of Los Angeles Department of General Services and the STNC and that the STNC not be evicted from its office and community meetings at NVCH.”
In addition, according to the group’s original shared-use agreement, neighborhood council officials are considered “elected officials” and have priority in considerations for city office space. As Terence Gomes, treasurer of the South Robertson Neighborhood Council stated to the STNC board, “This would be like Mayor Garcetti kicking Felipe Fuentes out of City Hall and telling him to find office space on Los Angeles Street.”
“This is wrong,” said Commissioner Lydia Grant of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC), speaking, she said, as a Sunland-Tujunga resident and stakeholder. “And this is not just about the STNC, this is about the whole neighborhood council system. There was no meeting, there was no community impact statement on the matter.”
Grant, who represents BONC’s North Valley region, said that she would be petitioning the City Council to reconsider the motion after a full hearing because the City Council heard the motion based on “false information.”
“What hurts one neighborhood council hurts all neighborhood councils,” added Gomes, a member of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition, “and the STNC has the full support of all 95 neighborhood councils in this city.” Gomes also told The Foothill Record that he would be drafting a letter of support to be sent to Councilmember Paul Krekorian, the chairperson of the Budget and Finance Committee, and to Grayce Liu, the general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, the city department that manages and oversees neighborhood councils.
Leaders from the Mission Hills and Sylmar neighborhood councils also spoke out at Wednesday’s meeting in support of the STNC’s position.
As STNC secretary Cindy Cleghorn finished reading aloud the first letter addressed to the City Council, the anger over the attempted eviction increased, and STNC members called out Fuentes’s staff members Yolanda Fuentes and Laena Shakarian, who were seated in the back of the hall.
“Where is Fuentes tonight? Why is he not here?” they asked. Neither Yolanda Fuentes nor Shakarian responded, and instead left the meeting to a chorus of boos and shouts. Neither stayed for a reading of the STNC letter to Fuentes, and neither received copies of both approved letters, which were provided at the meeting.
When contacted for a response by The Foothill Record, Fuentes’ office sent back the original October 15 eviction letter, saying, “Feel free to use any of this information.”