Dangling free groceries to come to a City Council meeting: Unethical or par for the course in the scrappy fight over neighborhood development? In anticipation of yesterday’s City Council meeting of the now-approved LaBrea Willoughby project, a mass email was sent out on Sunday, offering $50 gift certificates to Whole Foods, Ralphs, and other supermarkets in exchange for attending the meeting--and opposing the development in front of the City Council. If the offer raised some eyebrows, the woman who sent out the email defends the coupons, saying the gifts were given to those who acted as "stand-ins" for neighbors who couldn't make the meeting due to work or health conflicts. “We needed to have live bodies, so we chose to compensate the people who could go,” says Melvy, a member of the Melrose Neighborhood Association* (she asked that her last name not be used).
According to Melvy, who opposes the project due to the cut-through traffic that she thinks will come by home on Martel Avenue, says locals fighting the project simply can't attend the numerous city meetings on the contentious project (for instance, Patricia, a teacher who had the 'big Jack Weiss sign" on her house, couldn’t be there because she had to give an exam to her students, says Melvy).
Of about the 70 or people who showed up yesterday at City Hall, about 10 people received coupons, according to Melvy, who says she paid for the coupons.
One person who was forwarded the email finds the offer troublesome. "It subverts the process to pay people to come to meetings, regardless of the merits (or lack of them) of a given project," he writes in an email. Melvy disagrees. “It happens all the time,”she insists, recounting instances in which she’s witnessed what she believes are residents advocating on behalf of developments that aren't even in their neighborhood (the implication being that developers are somehow compensating those public speakers). Meanwhile, neighborhood resident Lucille Saunders, who has been a strong advocate against the project, said she had no knowledge of the email (her name wasn't listed on the cc list), and sounded surprised to hear of the coupon offer.
And the email:
"My neighborhood association is going up against a big developer and we need your help. We need people to show up at the council meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, June 3rd and stand up on our behalf. For your time, you will receive a $50 dollar gift certificate to one of the following: Ralphs, Trader Joes, Whole Foods or Food 4 Less. Unfortunately, we cannot give you cash.
You will not need to say anything. However, you will need to stand up to show opposition when prompted. Parking is free. The meeting starts at 10:00AM and should end by 12:00PM. The meeting is at City Hall, Downtown LA.
Unfortunately, most of our neighbors have had to already attend 5 of these hearing and have limited days off and/or are too elderly. Therefore, we need people that have time to show up.
If this offer works for you, please call Monday and I will fill in the details. Your support and assistance is greatly appreciated.
---phone number removed.
*Originally, the post said Melrose Heights Association