SCIENTOLOGISTS OVERWHELM HOLLYWOOD COUNCIL RACE
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 13, 2003 -- In a naked show of power Wednesday night, some 500 Scientologists descended by the busload on a Neighborhood Council polling place at a local church with pre-marked sample ballots and proceeded to elect a slate of Scientology and other candidates, including Hillary Royce, the group's international spokesperson, by a huge margin.
"I told you I was going to haul ass," Royce told an election volunteer as someone remarked on the turnout.
The Scientologists, most in their familiar blue military-style uniform, came in waves that almost overwhelmed volunteers who had set up a polling place in a large meeting room at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.
"Hey, Andy, I saw a Presbyterian come in," one observer joked.
An elder of the Presbyterian church, Andrew Ettinger, told The American Reporter at a candidate forum two weeks ago that he had encouraged Scientology - which is the fifth-largest employer in Hollywood, with almost 1,700 workers - to run a candidate for office.
"The numbers don't add up," he said in a stunned tone Wednesday as he watched vote tallies placed on a blowup of the ballot by the president of the Southern California League of Women Voters. She said the voter registration documents filed by the Scientologists and others would not be accessible to candidates who might wish to challenge the election. "The Voting Rights Act does not apply," she said. Asked earlier what an protest could result in, she replied, "Nothing."
"It is a private election," she said.
Under the bylaws adopted by the HUNC, five geographical districts and other seats for non-profits, faith-based organizations, homeowners and businesses are voted on by all voters regardless of which category they may register in as stakeholders. By that unusual standard, the Scientologists were all eligible to vote if they worked either at its huge building at the corner of Ivar and Hollywood or its former mansion hotel property on Franklin Ave. called the Celebrity Centre.
The election was the first for board seats on the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council, or HUNC, which survived a tendentious battle with the rival Franklin-Hollywood Hills Community Council for the right to represent the area, which includes most of the Hollywood Hills from Cahuenga Blvd. to Western Ave., from the Hollywood Sign to Hollywood Blvd., with about 20,000 residents, or "stakeholders."
The Neighborhood Councils are an outgrowth of a new city charter adopted by voters in 2000 that have now been implemented in 65 Los Angeles communities. The vast city, some 468 square miles and 37 miles from its northernmost to its southernmost part, has about 3.75 million residents. Wednesday's election is one of many occurring across the city.
The turnout of the Scientologists has been downplayed just days ago by Ettinger, who was handily elected to a board seat. Indeed, Scientologists have not been a factor in municipal elections in the past, althought Scientology International President Heber Jentzsch of Utah is a political contributor to Rep. Diane Watson, the area's new Congresswoman.
Casting what seemed to be roughly 70 percent of the votes, the Scientologists elected at least two of their own members and an unknown number of other candidates who had not disclosed their religious affiliations.
The turnout was remarkable in at least one other way: many, if not most Scientologists are not registered to vote in normal elections, largely because they view the American government as a product of psychiatric conspiracies. In the Neighborhood Council elections, however, voters do not have to be citizens, do not have to show identification, and may claim stakeholder status by merely affiliating with an organization.
Scientologists come to Hollywood by the thousands to work for low wages in exchange for counseling at their facilities in the Hollywood area, where the group is the largest property owner on Hollywood Blvd. and pays no property taxes. It has also disputed its obligation to pay some $70,000 to the Hollywood Blvd. Business Improvement District on religious grounds.
Only a dozen or so Latinos showed up to vote, and even a smaller number of Armenians, although both ethnic groups have a very substantial presence in the community. More than half of all Angelenos were said to be of Hispanic origin in the 2000 census, and dozens of blocks within the HUNC boundaries are almost entirely populated by Armenians.
Ironically, at a heated meeting at the same church last July attendees voted to narrow the definition of "stakeholder," and the local weekly newspaper reporter, Kevin Butler of the Hollywood Independent, reported that "Residents first debated and voted down the [bylaws] definition of voting stakeholders.
"Originally," his article continued, "the definition included not just those who work, live or own property in the area, but also participate in neighborhood organizations like nonprofit groups, church groups and educational institutions.
"Some residents said the definition was too broad and could lead the council to be packed with 'carpetbaggers' who didn't share the neighborhood's interests," he wrote. "'I think we need to keep it simple,'" Butler then quoted John Balasz as saying. Balasz, who says he does eat at the resaturant inside the Scientology Celebrity Centre facility occasionally, said he is not a Scientologist. Paul Godfrey, a Scientologist from Australia who has a sign business in Hollywood, was also elected Wednesday night.
The 17-member council will serve in an advisory capacity to city government, speaking out on planning, land use, public safety and other issues of concern to their constituents.
Joe Shea, who is president of the Ivar Hill Community Assn., was one of the unsuccsseful candidates Wednesday night. He was defeated by restrauteur Robert Abrahamian, who is of Greek-Armenian descent, by a vote of 412 to 103. The two are close friends.
The article by Kevin Butler is on the HUNC Website at http://www.lacityneighborhoods.com/articles/ND5556.pdf.