Scott Svonkin, San Gabriel Unified School District Board member, is running for the powerful L. A. Community College District Board. Thanks to major Democratic backing and union campaign contributions, Svonkin is the strong favorite.
In response to poor fact checking in a Frontiers article on Svonkin, we thought we'd set the record straight. He claims, for instance, that Sunland-Tujunga residents fought a Home Depot because they are racists, and that L.A. Weekly covered a burning hot issue over a fence proposed in San Gabriel. Neither are true:
Frontiers does not interview any of the “racists” in Sunland-Tujunga after Svonkin claims that the people there are afraid of Home Depot because it attracts Latino day laborers. Frontiers relies entirely on Svonkin:
“The reason they didn't want a Home Depot in their neighborhood was because they didn't want day laborers around,” Svonkin said. “It was a fight over racism.”
Joe Barrett, co-director of the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, which successfully stopped the big box store, says, “They tried to label us all as racist. … They fail to mention that our community is 40 percent Latino as it is. And we are very happy about that. And we had Latinos in our group. We had all kinds of people in our group.”
The town has only a few areas that can be developed, “We had five hardware stores, but no retail development — like general merchandise. And so all of us have to travel to Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and Santa Clarita to shop.”
There are two Home Depots, on top of the five other hardware stores, within 1 ½ miles of the proposed Sunland-Tujunga site.
That's why residents called Svonkin — who was paid to aggressively promote the development and lobby for it in Sunland-Tujunga — “a paid shill for developers.”
Second, it appears that the Frontiers reporter never read the Weekly story. Frontiers writes that:
In one instance, which was criticized in the Weekly's story entitled “Scott Svonkin's Personality Problem,” Svonkin fought for a fence at a school in the San Gabriel School District. “I was worried that children could be abducted. I wanted a fence so people couldn't walk on the property and just take the kids. It became very controversial,” he said.
Huh? The fence issue was not included in any Svonkin coverage by the Weekly, in any form.
Cristina Alvarado was on the San Gabriel school board at the time of the fence issue. She says that during the meeting where the fence proposal was addressed, Scott Svonkin “was very dismissive of the parents: 'This is something the school board has already decided and you don't have a say.'”
Safety was not the issue, as Frontiers reports. Parents wanted to make sure that the elementary school did not look like a military compound.
“We had to” put up a fence, Alvarado says, because “We felt that that was a safety issue … But the way [the fence] looked, that was open for discussion.”
Another story the Weekly never wrote, though Frontiers criticized the paper for it, is one about Passover. We are not sure what Frontiers is talking about here:
Another incident the Weekly cited was when the school board scheduled a meeting and Svonkin failed to show up. He claims that the board rescheduled the meeting from its usual time and the meeting fell on the second night of Passover – and he chose to follow his religious commitment. His critics, he said, “play petty games instead of debating the issues,” such as teacher layoffs, which he opposes, and giving jobs to local people and unions rather than simply the lowest bidder. “I think unions are a good thing,” he said. Svonkin said the Weekly never asked him for his side of the Passover incident.
The closest thing we can come up with is an incident the Weekly covered that occurred one week before Passover, when Svonkin fibbed, saying he could not attend a San Gabriel Board meeting because he was “sick.” At the meeting, teacher layoffs were being discussed.
The Weekly found Svonkin, instead, at a Democratic Party function – while the San Gabriel meeting was taking place. Other activists from Hollywood Highlands Democratic Club found the same. See the photos and our post here.
Frontiers also accepts — without checking with San Gabriel residents, where Svonkin is on the School Board — Svonkin's claim that he is not a bully who regularly raises his voice.
Alvarado recalls one day when, Svonkin “turns to me and says, 'How can you be effective when you don't attend any of the events in the community?' And this was in an open meeting. I turned to him and I said, 'Scott, how do you know what I go to?' And he got really mad at me. He was shaking and yelling at me.”
Svonkin faces a May 17 runoff election against under-funded candidate Lydia Gutierrez, whose race is entirely self-financed. He has the hefty backing of scores of big-name Democrats.
So far, nobody has stepped forward to explain how the Democratic Party of Los Angeles County settled on a figure like Svonkin.