Last year’s bitter Echo Park neighborhood council elections symbolized for many the class and ethnic divisions that run through the neighborhood. President Jose Sigala defeated board member Christine Peters’ bid to head the council and his Unity Team of mostly Latino candidates ousted several other longtime White council members. Peters, who challenged the election results, lost her job as chair of the council’s parks and recreation committee. “It is difficult to see how the two sides could come together,” the LA Times said.
So, imagine the surprise after Sigala replaced one of his own Unity Team members with Peters as head of the council’s influential planning committee. Then there was the sight of both of them (Sigala’s pictured on the right;Peters on the left) protesting alongside parents at Logan Elementary school and cooperating on other issues. Meanwhile, some of the same members of the Unity Team that brought Sigala to power have turned into his most vocal critics, claiming that he and others have abused and ignored council rules.
It’s not like Peters and Sigala are throwing air kisses at each other, but they have at least agreed to keep it civil.
“She and I have collaborated on issues, we have brought things forward together,” Sigala said of Peters. “I felt I trusted her judgement. People were surprised.”
“Planning is the hottest button issue in our community and I think it says a lot that Jose was able to appoint me, considering we continue to agree to disagree now and again,” said Peters. “I had a choice-quit the [neighborhood council] altogether or volunteer to get us back on track. We had to put personal differences aside and focus on the Neighborhood issues at hand.”
Some other board members and Unity Team candidates, including his wife, Lisa Baca and vice president David Rockello, are also playing down the divisiveness of the election. “There shouldn’t be any them or us,” said Rockello. “We are working in cooperation”
“The Unity Team has served its purpose,” said Baca. “Now we are the neighborhood council. Sink or swim together.”
But this this show of unity has not been enough to quell the Echo Park council’s reputation for out-of-control, Jerry Springer Show-like antics. Other members of the Unity Team slate have broken ranks with Sigala over claims that the bylaws and process governing the neighborhood council have been ignored as he consolidates power. Board member Ida Tallala claims that those like her who have disagreed with Sigala have been left on the outs and that he has betrayed the Unity Team’s ideals
“He wanted to change things so that the board would have to be more responsible and responsive. And we bought into it,” Tallala said. “Jose and Lisa would call the shots and the rest of us would have to fall in line. Things don’t work out that way.”
In response to concerns expressed by Tallala and others, one of the members from the city’s Neighborhood Council Review Commission is expected to observe tonight’s board of governors meeting of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council. Tallala hopes the commissioner will find evidence to support her concerns while Sigala says he wants the commissioner to witness his efforts to promote professional conduct. What ever happens will probably be entertaining, said vice president Rockello.
“I tell people that if you are missing the neighborhood council meetings, you are missing the best novela in Echo Park.”
Photo courtesy of the Garment Citizen