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Revenge of the Gadflies: City Hall’s Bungling Costs Taxpayers Dearly

Three times a week, Matt Dowd, Michael Hunt and Zuma Dogg annoy, offend and sometimes make perfect sense as co-stars in the theater of the absurd TV drama that passes for LA City Council meetings.

It says a lot about the state of LA’s political culture that they have become something like the voice of the people, ranting, raving and sometimes exposing City Hall’s hypocrisy.

Wednesday was no exception, the gadflies — minus Zuma who was says he is moving on to other things with the CD2 race over — stood before the Council and mocked and berated them.

Hunt was back in his KKK garb but this time, the Council didn’t walk out (except for Richard Alarcon and Herb Wesson) or try to throw him out. Dowd was given special dispensation to ppear before the Council after being banned from speaking for violating the new rules of decorum — rules specifically aimed at them, rules that have been added to the litany of civil rights violations he and his Venice Beach companions have sued over in federal court

Against all logic, they have not only sued but they have won.

And that was the subject on the Council’s agenda.

They have won a second federal court ruling that the city’s beach ordinance requiring permits to sell wares and to perform at Venice Beach where they and so many others have performed is unconstitutionally vague. Different zones have been set aside for vendors selling things and for performers but the enforcement has been haphazard, to the detriment of limiting the space available to performers like Hunt, Dowd and Zuma.

The vagueness problem comes from the city’s series of unsuccessful attempts to write a valid ordinance that relies on the phrase “inextricably intertwined” with the vendor’s right to free speech as the basis to deciding what is and isn’t allowed.

Enforcement then is left to authorities to decide what activities are “inextricably intertwined” with free speech — something the litigants argue is enforced arbitrarily. So, they claim, is the ban on performers using paraphernalia over 4-feet tall like the microphone stand musician Dowd uses and the cutout of Hannah Montana he keeps nearby in hopes people will donate to him to have their picture taken on the beach with a likeness of the Disney Channel star.

The result of all this is $270,000 judgment in favor of Dowd and friends on one aspect of their current case which is continuing in mediation talks aimed at reaching a settlement.

The issue on the agenda Wednesday was the city’s need to deposit $211,000 with the federal court to cover attorney fees awarded to the plaintiffs so the partial ruling in the case can be appealed.

It says a lot about the quality of leadership of this city, their skill at managing it, that guys many people would call bums have beaten all the brain power, all the lawyers, all the capacity to intimidate of a City Hall that treats its 4 million residents.

The Venice Beach performers turned into Council gadflies three years ago when the cops started harassing them because city officials wanted to clean up the Boardwalk freak show to make it more appealing to tourists.

Zuma Dogg, who is smarter than and knows more about city government than most Council members, has become something of an urban folk hero, skewering City Hall foibles and failures in his frequent public comment appearances broadcast on Channel 35. His campaigns for mayor and now CD2 attracted respectable numbers of votes for a candidate who not only is penniless but homeless.

Last week, Dowd — now something of an amateur lawyer — and a dozen other beach denizens filed a new complaint in federal court.

They are challenging the 2006 and 2008 beach ordinances over the same vague words “inextricably intertwined” and adding a challenge to the new rules of decorum for Council meetings that allow the Council President to ban public comment by people deemed disruptive for up to 30 meetings, or 10 weeks.

Like the permit system for beach performers, the decorum rules are arbitrary on their face and almost certainly unconstitutional. Some Council members think they don’t go far enough and want to move the public comment period from the start of meetings to the end, something that has infuriated many in the activist community.

In a city where the wishes of ordinary people matter so little to those in high office, where so many are alienated or indifferent, there seems something fitting that the Council is haunted by these gadflies and that their carefully staged meetings disrupted by their antics.

But it also says a lot about the rest of us watching from the sidelines or ignoring what’s going on altogether. We have abdicated our responsibilities as citizens and have the city we deserve.



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13 Responses to Revenge of the Gadflies: City Hall’s Bungling Costs Taxpayers Dearly

  1. Walter Moore says:

    The smartest thing the City Council could do re decorum is adopt verbatim the rules that the courts have on “bizarre dress” and decorum. That way, any litigant would have to convince the court that the court’s own rules are unconstitutional, or that the City Council should have much lower standards.
    Or they could focus on things that really matter — like, say, the budget deficit — because enduring fools for three minutes per week is cheaper than litigation.

  2. David in Tarzana says:

    Walter,
    I take offense at your comment “enduring fools for three minutes per week is cheaper than litigation”. These “fools” as you call them have done more to shed light on corruption and incompetence on the city council than anyone else in this town. By casting them as “fools” you only show your ingnorance of the impact they have had on the city council process. They have actually taken action to right the wrong that was legislated on them by the city. You call them “fools”. I call them heroes.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of Channel 35- anybody notice all of the technical problems lately and how many times the programming is jamming up?
    Intentional or just plain mismanagement and negligence?

  4. Zuma says:

    Ron, I am not recuperating from election fatigue. I have retired from day to day meeting attendance. To say recuperating from the election is not accurate and a misrepresentation. NO PEOPLE I DO NOT NEED RECUPERATION FROM THE ELECTION…but have to move on from the past three years that was supposed to be one day.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “Enduring fools for 3 minutes a week” is sloppy math. These “gadflies” have figured out how to get some 6-7 minutes per day by speaking both for their 2-minutes of public comment AND a minute on a number of other agendized items. When they try to sneak in general rants having nothing to do with the topic, so the rules aren’t totally arbitrary. Then there are those like the guy who shows up to rant about the pier problem in Malibu, “outside our jurisdiction.”
    But it does seem a symbol of helplessness, when they, namely Bill Rosenthal who represents the Venice Beach boardwalk and surrounding area, so bungled this issue that the whole Council is cursed by these 3 and their clones like the women in Van Nuys, the guys who hates Huizar, Sachs and Walch who rant and rail about whatever and occasionally make sense. (Rosenthal whose “gold in the gutter” bright idea led to quickly replacing parking meters with much more expensive ones without considering the bigger picture, and now with the backlash they’re all blaming it on the Transportation dept. whose hapless employees were ordered to implement this ASAP.) Of course, Nuch’s ego would never allow him to settle even though he used Zuma and his foul mouth at public comment to campaign for him, and Zine aggressively used Zuma like in that infamous YouTube, so they’ll keep litigating at far greater cost, as this bizarre show grows still stranger, and Hunt now appears in KKK costume more frequently. (With support from the woman who keeps haranguing the council on his behalf for “institutional racism.”) And of course, having risen to the highest level of his incompetence, Bill Rosendahl wants to run for US Senator to replace Diane Feinstein.

  6. Zuma Dogg says:

    Walter, better that these fools show up, than a fool like you who doesn’t do a thing for anyone but himself. Have you ever done ANYTHING besides lose mayoral elections? You are defined by your candidacies. How about do something in between. You couldn’t figure out a real angle if it was printed in one of your textbooks.

  7. Monica says:

    Interesting the Budget & Finance committee meeting on Monday was not aired. Many community members were asking why it wasn’t airing. I called channel 35 and they advised no one put in a request to have it aired. That was one of the most important meetings pertaining to LAPD. Others called in and couldn’t get through on the council phones. Yes, they were all jammed up so no one could hear what actually was going on.

  8. El Quixotian says:

    Well, at first thought, it might help Walter out by suggesting that his nod to the common (if clichéd) phrase shortened from King James Version of 2 Co. 11:19 (translating to “For ye suffer fools gladly, because that ye yourselves are wise”) should just have included a parenthetically polite “present company excepted”.
    But in that context, Paul of Tarsus was apparently not encouraging patience, but actually lamenting those taken in by false apostles and ministers of Satan.
    Clearly, from the context of the article, it would seem that the sense of these folks exhibited would put them, at worst, amongst the class of the noble court jester, who are indeed often to be considered most giften when truly wise.
    Arguably, their wryest lot may be chagrined at theis stereotype diminshed by mimes and jugglers, but even then, one shouldn’t pick nits with a man weilding chainsaws!

  9. Charlie Baker says:

    A certain amount of time is reserved for public comment so it is a foolish excuse that the City Council should work on the budget-that implies that eliminating public comment would alloy them to focus on “more important issues.”
    The First Amendment really comes into play for unpopular or annoying speech. The very speech that is annoying the City Council with Eric Garcetti and his Comrade Dion O’Connell trying to shut down public speech ILLEGALLY.
    This guy Garcetti tries to portray himself as a progressive is anything but. In many areas he is a right-winger who wants to take the public out of any decision making–he doesn’t want to be bothered with such inconveniences.
    He talks about cleaning up campaign funding yet doesn’t practice what he preaches by refusing to participate in current campaign financing rules and refusing to debate his opponent this past spring. He and the mayor talk about the lack of affordable housing but reward developers with variances and look the other way when existing affordable, low rental property is destroyed.
    There is nothing wrong with being a right-winger, but be proud of it and don’t try to have it both ways.

  10. Walter Moore says:

    Allow me to re-phrase:
    1. The reason I don’t go to City Council is it’s a rigged game. They don’t listen to anyone. The dice are loaded. The conclusion is foregone. You may as well try explaining physics to a dog.
    2. This is not just my opinion. Someone — I think it was s strip club — even got a court ruling that the City Council was ignoring the public during public comment. I myself saw it during hearings on the LAX expansion and Jamiel’s Law.
    3. To the people who do show up and make valid points — including you, Zuma — please accept my apologies for not making it clear what I mean by fools. I was referring in particular to the guy who shows up in the Klan outfit. I’ll spare you the details of my childhood, and the crap I’ve seen black people subjected to there, but the Klan outfit is about as offensive as attire gets. I will say, though, I don’t think the Kiss make-up helps.
    4. Just looking at the costs and benefits of litigation, whether it’s six minutes a week or 60, I can tell you: it’s cheaper to sit through a few minutes of comments per meeting than to subject us taxpayers to litigation over it. Sometimes in private litigation, for example, it’s cheaper just to submit to dumb, pointless, time-wasting questioning than to file and prosecute a motion to stop it.
    5. I’ve spent thousands of hours trying to fix the city — billable hours, hours that cost me a bunch of income. It didn’t work. I’m kind of at a loss for ideas right now. It’s very frustrating to see special interests simply buy elections, while the local media ignore big issues.
    6. As for any personal attacks some people make against me, whatever. I’m not running for anything, and people say just ridiculous things. Life in the big city. Best of luck to you.

  11. Walter Moore says:

    P.S. I once told Zuma his was brilliant for using his schtick to get the media to focus on City Council. Had he simply showed up in a suit and tie and made the same points without rapping, he would have drawn as much attention to local issues as anyone else who tried that approach: zero.
    Does that mean I’ll ever host a fundraiser for him? No. But it was a good move, as was his losing that persona when he showed up for forums.
    Peace out. (That’s what they say now, right?)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Am I wrong or does Garcetti regularly chew gum while speaking in Council Chambers?
    If so just add that to the list of “how rude”.

  13. david r2b says:

    Mr. Moore -
    My Wife and I met you in that beautiful Brick building on Wilshire during your last campaign. I’m commenting on your item # 5:
    5. I’ve spent thousands of hours trying to fix the city — billable hours, hours that cost me a bunch of income. It didn’t work. I’m kind of at a loss for ideas right now. It’s very frustrating to see special interests simply buy elections, while the local media ignore big issues.
    I believe it was Claudius that said: “Rome needs to crumble, before we can re-build her.” The City of Los Angeles is slowly crumbling but the Citizens aren’t really aware…….YET! A few are, I admit, but as of now not enough. When that moment occurs the fit will hit the shan big time. Normally the awakening happens as the result of ONE event. I don’t know what that event will be yet, but stay turned and in the meantime please continue your input and observations. And I’m sorry you lost so many Billable Hour$. But it’s only money.
    Speaking of money, because obviously money talks so much two carpetbaggers are in the run-off in CD 2, let’s see what happens when the “half-off” campaign starts officially early next year. Now Citizens will try to dip into Spring Streets personal wallets. Let’s see what type of lawsuits and roadblocks they use to prevent “half-off” from happening. The City Council controls the Judges as we observed in 2006 with Prop R and the term limits extension and that was an unconstitutional event…..two unrelated items in one voting instrument. Maybe we’ll have another “Laughee” ruling?
    When the Citizens finally have had enough, there will be a “C3″…a City Charter Convention and we’ll need the Coliseum to hold everyone.
    Keep fighting Sir and thank you.

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