In narrow election, downtown votes against creating neighborhood council for skid row

Downtown residents and business people narrowly defeated a proposal to form a separate neighborhood council for skid row, the city’s epicenter of homelessness, but the measure organizers said Friday that they would continue to press for a stronger voice for their community.

People with ties to a broad swath of downtown interests voted 826 to 764 against a breakaway council for the 10,000 residents of skid row’s tents, renovated slum hotels and apartments, according to an unofficial tally.

The results will not be certified until challenges or recount requests, if any, are resolved, according to Stephen Box, the director of outreach and communications for the L.A. Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

General Jeff Page, who spearheaded the breakaway vote, said the organizing committee is considering a challenge or grievance over the possible use of city funds by the larger Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council in an opposition campaign.

Page also said his committee members may revive protests over the City Council’s decision to lift a citywide ban on online voting for the skid row election only, 13 days before polling.

“Obviously it’s disappointing for our community that was so excited that we would finally have an outlet to address our much-needed community concerns,” Page said.

More than 202 voters identified themselves as homeless, but many more who have no permanent housing cast ballots, said Ann-Marie Holman, a communications staffer with the neighborhood council subdivision elections.

Paper ballots overwhelmingly broke in favor of a skid row council, 183 to 19. But the online voting tilted 807 to 581 against the proposal, according to the unofficial results.

The vote came at a critical juncture for skid row, with high-end development pushing into the 50-block neighborhood even as living conditions for those who reside on the streets reach a nadir.

Homeless people and other residents of the largely African American neighborhood had sponsored a drive to break away from two larger downtown councils, saying they had been sorely neglected while the rest of downtown boomed.

People represented by the Downtown Los Angeles and Historic Cultural neighborhood councils were eligible to vote to accept or reject the proposed skid row council district — bounded by Main, Alameda, 3rd and 7th streets.

“People were lined up two hours before the polls opened, and there was a line all day long,” Box said. “There was a significant amount of engagement.”

Members of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council mounted an online opposition campaign, accusing breakaway organizers of trying to maintain skid row as a homeless haven.

As many as 2,000 people live outdoors on skid row sidewalks, and social service providers and police say their plight has never been worse.

Homeless people, including many suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, are increasingly confined to overcrowded and violent tent cities as bistros and loft projects eat into skid row’s traditional turf.

Skid row council organizers had called for subsidized family housing, showers, bathroom access, parks, tree plantings and other amenities for residents of the tents, refurbished welfare hotels and apartments of the neighborhood.

Their opponents argued skid row should be integrated into the rest of downtown, with housing aimed at working people with moderate incomes, retail projects and more policing to lift the district out of its misery.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

gholland@latimes.com

Twitter: @geholland


UPDATES:

6:25 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction to the vote.

This article was originally posted at 4 a.m.

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