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.