I thought I’d seen just about everything from this City Council but my eyes were opened by Tuesday’s debate over a plan to raise fees for homeowners and neighborhood and community groups to appeal Planning and Building Safety decisions by 200 to 2,000 percent.
This is a City Council that isn’t worth the $180,000 a year they are paid. They aren’t even worth half that as community activists are proposing to put on the ballot next year. They aren’t worth 10 cents.
What was before the council was an urgent ordinance to fix “typos” and backed off somewhat from the astronomical appeals fees approved unanimously Aug. 12. It also was supposed to fix the open meeting law violation that was used to sneak it through — something that was sure to lead to a lawsuit that could nullify the ordinance months or years from now.
What it didn’t fix was the blatant constitutional violations represented by onerous fees intended to stifle the due process rights of ordinary citizens to challenge city decisions that ruin their neighborhoods and destroy the quality of their lives.
When Richard Alarcon is the people’s hero, nailing the illegal anti-democratic nature of this measure, and when Tom LaBonge is the voice of reason, saying he doesn’t think anyone is “comfortable” with it so put it for another day — you know this was as ill-informed and muddled a debate as you’ve ever seen.
For 90 minutes, the Council circled around what this was about in a confused and pointless discussion that left them even more dumbfounded than usual, if that’s possible.
In the end, they agreed, unanimously, to revisit the issue Wednesday and seemed to agree to keep citizen appeal fees to the $75 to $300 level they have been instead of up to the $6,188 level that was proposed.
But that’s only a temporary decision. The intent is to come back with a new fee schedule that moves toward “full cost recovery” — City Hall’s policy of making the shrinking middle class and homeowners pay the bulk of taxes and pay again for everything they get in services from the city.
There ought to be a law, maybe there is if the nation’s civil rights laws apply to ordinary law-abiding people.
A dozen or so community activists spoke out against the measure at the outset of the debate, people from the wealthy hillside communities to the Eastside, from Neighborhood Councils and environmental justice groups.
When people from all classes and backgrounds come together like this, as you’re seeing so often these days, you know the winds of change are blowing and the discontent with City Hall’s failure is growing.
Not everybody sees that, of course. Some are oblivious.
Ed Reyes, the Council’s point man for developers, and Bernard Parks, the Council’s point man on fiscal irresponsibility, for instance, argued the proposal dates back three years, that a consultant was paid $100,000 to come up with the fee schedule and public hearings have been held since April.
So everyone should know about this measure. Only everyone didn’t know about it, not the Council or the public.
That’s because the language on agendas hid the appeals fee issue from the public and Neighborhood Councils and other community groups were never actively brought into the process.
The best the Planning Department could do was say that information was posted on its website and emails sent out to NCs. Developers, in contrast, were brought into discussions about the increased fees they face and how they would get better and faster service for their money while the community would for the most part be silenced by the high appeals fees.
You can be sure developers, their lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and PR advisers were given all the access they wanted during the three years, five months and 68 days that have gone into the process of killing democracy in LA.
It is a sign of the times that the Council has once again back down in the face of public opposition. They are afraid of the people and the growing cohesion of activists that is rapidly building into a full-scale revolt.
They have good reason to be afraid. Their neglect and incompetence has allowed the budget deficit to threaten the city’s future, billboards and marijuana stores to flourish without regulation, the DWP to gouge the public to put into the pockets of a union that is out of control.
The list of their failures goes on and on and so does their list of attacks on the rights of ordinary people to be treated fairly and to get a government that serves them.
There are only so many grievances the public will bear before they awaken and do something about what’s wrong, even in LA.