Every time the LA City Council meets, my pal Zuma Dogg and others who qualify as gadflies by the regularity of the attendance to rant and rave for their two minutes of public comment and a minute or two each on an assortment of specific issues.
Under the council’s rules — rules they set themselves — members are not required to pay the least attention to these self-styled spokesman for the people. And usually don’t, gossiping or plotting amongst themselves.
Once in a while, groups of ordinary citizens descend on the Council chamber to plead for a cause: Stop the project killing their neighborhoods, ban billboard blight, clamp down on pot shops.
Sometimes like when the fate of Billy the Elephant is at stake, the public, pro and con, get to speak for hours. Other times, they get short-shrift if a committee hearing has been held where they had the chance to speak.– five minutes a side at one minute per speaker if they’re allowed to speak at all.
But recently, the council — apparently chastened by growing evidence that the natives are becoming restless — has taken to suspending the rules and allowing the public enough time to actually convey their concerns and objections.
This dismays the council’s legal adviser, Assistant City Attorney Dion Connell, who grimaces as he advises the council members that those rules of theirs require them to actually pay attention when they conduct what are called “fair hearings.”
The hearings may be “fair” but the result is the council votes exactly as they planned to, unanimously, no matter what the public says.
That’s what occurred last week when the La Brea Gateway project came up and again Wednesday when the the council gave the green light to a massive expansion of the Museum of Tolerance so it can raise money holding weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.
It’s no coincidence both projects are in the district of the developers’ and lobbyists’ best friend, lame duck Jack Weiss.
I bring this up and share the video of the Council wasting its precious time trying to figure out whether or not to give the public a few extra minutes to vent its spleen to make the point that public comment and public hearings don’t amount to a hill of beans if nobody’s really listening and everything already has been decided in back rooms.
What’s the point of trekking down to City Hall, waiting around for hours, paying $13.20 to park just to have two minutes to speak your mind if Council’s minds are already made up?
I’ve done this myself a few times in the last year and always come up feeling empty and foolish.
Part of the strategy that the Saving LA Project has developed but not yet implemented consistently is to emulate how lobbyists work.
They don’t waste their time sitting around the Council chamber to speak for a minute or two unless it’s to put on a show for the cameras when the public shows up in large numbers. They meet privately with Council members and their staffs numerous times in advance of the public debate, such as it is.
Community activists can’t shower money on Council members like lobbyists and their clients do but they can organize their neighborhoods and pose a threat to the political futures of their elected representatives.
If you can’t help or hurt your elected representative, all you’ll ever get is lip service and two minutes to blow off steam.
A full court press on all 15 Council members from well-organized local activists can, and has, changed the course of events.
It’s my belief that Neighborhood Council need to stop talking their issues to death and start banding together within each Council district, coordinate with other organizations in their areas and become lobbyists meeting frequently with their electeds to become an effective pressure group.
From the beginning of my life as an activist, I’ve put my faith in the power of the people to change the political agenda, if not the politicians, through action, not talk.
That’s how Measure B was beaten, Carmen Trutanich elected City Attorney and a growing number of issues won. The Council is even gritting its teeth and allowing the public to speak more often.
Of course, I may be wrong as I often am. But I’m an optimist in a time of so much gloom.