Rachel Lester might be the only candidate for a neighborhood council who finished off her written candidate’s statement with a happy-face emoticon . But the youthful flair clearly didn’t hurt – Lester, 15, became the youngest person ever elected to a Los Angeles neighborhood council at the April 11 election for the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council (SoRo).
The Shalhevet School tenth grader now represents the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, which will mean a monthly board meeting, committee meetings and a measured sense of responsibility.
“I still can’t really believe it actually happened. I’m on tons of committees in school, so to me it’s like one more committee, but instead of students, it’s adults,” said Lester, who serves on her school’s external affairs and environmental sustainability committees, is on the softball team and the choir, and is an editor at the school newspaper.
Now she’ll have to make room for the neighborhood council and the council’s Green Team Committee on which she serves. Lester said she would like to get neighborhood teens more involved in the effort to make the neighborhood green, perhaps naming a teen ambassador to the Green Team. And she is excited to represent Pico-Robertson’s Jewish community.
Lester got more votes than any other candidate at the recent election, a result of a campaign that included an email to everyone she and her parents know, mobilizing Shalhevet students and walking from store to store on Pico Boulevard on election Sunday.
BongHwan Kim, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees the councils, says while other young people have served he believes Lester is the youngest. The city’s minimum age for voting and candidacy is 13, but each council can set its own age parameter.
“On most neighborhood councils, participants tend to be older and retired folks, so this is a breath of fresh air when we get a 15-year-old elected,” Kim said.
The city established neighborhood councils in 1999 as part of a new City Charter. Neighborhood Councils don’t have legislative powers, but can influence the city council, the zoning board and the mayor on issues that affect the neighborhood.
The SORO neighborhood council represents 45,000 people living in the area between Beverly Hills and Culver City, extending from La Cienega Boulevard to Roxbury Drive, and thousands more stakeholders who have business, worship or go to school in the area. It is one of the more active councils, Kim said, with an annual street fair, a gang mitigation effort, a neighborhood walking program, and active attention to land use and public safety issues. It has made a seat available to high schoolers for several years, but Lester didn’t run for that seat (which is now empty), choosing instead to represent the entire neighborhood.
“The current generation is really committed to making changes in their communities and environment,” said Douglas Fitzsimmons, president of SORO Neighborhoods Council. “They bring so much energy to the board, and I think that energizes us all.”
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