City Clerk Disqualifies 200+ voters in Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council Election
What started as a community group, Lincoln Heights Intel has become a political force poised to take up to 11 seats of the Lincoln Heights neighborhood council on an anti-gentrification platform — and now a last minute reversal from the City Clerk could derail their entire campaign.
Vincent “Chente” Montalvo is running as an area rep in the upcoming Lincoln Heights neighborhood council election on April 14, where his family has lived for years. To request the ballot to vote for his son, Montalvo’s father had to prove he’s a stakeholder. He followed procedure, and submitted a letter from Lincoln Heights Intel to the City Clerk to affirm his membership in their organization, the basis of his stakeholdership. On Feb 25, the City Clerk’s office notified him that his application was verified and approved, saying his ballot would be mailed shortly.
However, the City Clerk’s office has reversed course and no longer recognizes Lincoln Heights Intel as a community organization, after reviewing a complaint filed by Council District 1. Thus anyone who requested a ballot using an LHI membership ID must request a new ballot before the deadline on April 6.
“Based on the documentation provided by the organizer of Lincoln Intel, the organization does not qualify as a Community Organization as described in the definition,” stated Sofia Anguiano on behalf of the Office of the City Clerk.
Anguiano states that members of LHI can still request a ballot as a residential stakeholder, but membership IDs issued by LHI won’t be accepted. She denies that the Clerk’s office is reversing its apparent approval of the organization.
“My dad and I sent an email to them requesting a list of documents to prove the organization exists in Lincoln Heights, since the city doesn’t require us to register. And to this day, they have not sent us any response or a list of required documents,” said Montalvo, who recently served on the Elysian Park NC.
“It’s just kind of suspicious. My past experience working in the neighborhood councils, I have never seen anything like that.”
The organizer in question is Sara Clendening, who recently spoke with Knock about running for president of LHNC.
“We’re a legit community organization that complies with the legal ordinance,” said Clendening. “This is an attack on our community organization by various board members and Team Cedillo members to interfere with the election and block our stakeholder votes from those displaced from Lincoln Heights ,so they can rubber stamp land use from CD-1.
According to Clendening, the Clerk’s decision disqualifies over 200 members of the organization from voting — members who she argues are legitimate stakeholders. All 11 candidates remain on the ballot, and she’s confident the slate will still be voted in by residential stakeholders who support LHI.
The law states that a community organization is an “an entity that has continuously maintained a physical street address within the boundaries of the neighborhood council for not less than one year, and that performs ongoing and verifiable activities and operations that confer some benefit on the community within the boundaries of the neighborhood council.” (Admin. Code. section 22.801.1(c).
Although Anguino says LHI doesn’t count as a community organization, it’s difficult to describe it as anything else. Founded in 2019, Lincoln Heights Intel describes itself as an online community news source, and hosted meetings out of its members’ residences in Lincoln Heights before the pandemic. LHI members make and post flyers, and hold actions in places around the neighborhood, laser-focused on issues in 90031. The group has met via Zoom since social distancing guidelines went into effect, and they maintain an active following on Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram where their profile currently has over 2,000 followers.
Members of LHI mainly use the group to discuss local land and housing issues such as disputes surrounding Flat Top hill, and a luxury apartment development on Ave 34. Last year, LHI turned its attention to the neighborhood councils. Feeling frustrated by the current leadership, members of LHI volunteered to run, forming a slate of 11 candidates. Of those, six run unopposed.
The trouble started on March 16, when LHI received an email from Renée McDade, an election administrator from the City Clerk’s office. According to McDade, Clendening said over the phone that LHI is only an online entity, which doesn’t organize events or activities at their given address — a claim Clendening denies ever saying.
“We asked what other documents we need to get certified, if certification is even possible. But you can’t get certified. There’s no agency the organizations report to, so the only thing left is to just follow the ordinance,” said Montalvo.
“Have you been there for a year and a half? Yes, so that makes it a qualifying address. Do your members have an ongoing participation in the community? We answered yes to all of those. But the city somehow is focused on just saying, ‘Sara you said the word IP address and that doesn’t qualify you,’ but that’s not the way it was told to them. We asked what else do we have to qualify with besides our address? Can I send you an IP address, we can send you the documents, but we need a list.”
According to Clendening, LHI organizes and manufactures their flyers and Zoom meetings out of their given address on Ave 32. Still, Anguiano says LHI doesn’t meet the plain definition of a physical street address, and rejects the address. The same address is on the letterhead used by members like Montalvo whose requests were originally approved.
Members of LHI believe the complaint was filed by Armida Marrufo, a Team Cedillo member currently serving as president of the LHNC board. On Facebook Marrufo has repeatedly accused LHI of paying people to vote for their slate, without evidence. Later, She pasted an apparent reply from the City Clerk’s office regarding this specific complaint to a Facebook thread.
Marrufo made and spread memes that baselessly accuse LHI of paying non-residents to become members of LHI to vote their members into office.
LHNC bylaws allow non-residents to vote as long as they qualify as stakeholders. For example, members of the Lincoln Highschool Alumni Association qualify as stakeholders, even if they live out of town. Like many other community organizations, LHI issues membership cards which can be used as proof of stakeholdership.
In an email to Clendening, Anguiano states “Upon learning of your organization’s (Lincoln Heights Intel) issuance of ‘membership cards’ for voting in the Lincoln Heights NC elections, Ms. McDade reached out to you and made a determination, which has not wavered.”
The announcement left LHI scrambling to provide accurate information to its members before the ballot application deadline on April 6 . Clendening advises members outside of Lincoln Heights to submit their applications anyways, so they are on file. The decision to disqualify LHI as a community organization does not disqualify members of LHI who can prove their stakeholdership in other ways. Primarily the clerk’s decision affects low-income members of LHI who have been displaced to other cities.