Saturday, September 27, 2008

CityWatchLA - Brown Out at the DWP

CityWatch, Sept 26, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 78

City Ignores the Law
By Stephen Box

Legendary rock band Van Halen, at the peak of its popularity, was taken to task by the media when it was discovered that Van Halen’s contract contained a provision that called for a backstage bowl of M&M’s, but with all of the brown ones removed. Often dismissed as Urban Legend, Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth confirms the story as true, quoting article #126 of their production contract which specifies “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

As for the charge that this was evidence of the lavish and whimsical demands that Rock Stars made on promoters, Roth responds the ban on brown M&M’s was far from frivolous and was instead simply a quality control measure, implemented to guarantee adherence to a contract that was complicated and included complex technical specifications.

In short, when the band arrived in town, they would stop backstage and look for the bowl of M&M’s on the craft service table. If they found brown M&M’s, they knew it was time to line check the entire production because there were sure to be technical problems. Sometimes they might be minor, sometimes they might threaten to destroy the show and sometimes they might be simply dangerous.

There’s a lesson here for the members of the public who attend meetings covered by the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that guarantees the public the opportunity to participate in government meetings and deliberations.

Simply announce to the Security Staff at the entrance that you are a member of the public attending a public meeting. The Brown Act specifies that the members of the public have the right to attend public meetings without having to provide their name or any information.

Last month I attended the DWP Commission meeting in order to appeal to the Board to lift the ban on cyclists in Griffith Park during the DWP Festival of Lights in November and December.

I approached the Security Desk and was asked to sign-in. I smiled and identified myself as a “member of the public, here to attend a public meeting.” The guard didn’t smile and instead informed me that I needed to show identification and sign in. I responded that I was a “member of the public, here to attend a public meeting.” He repeated his position, I asked for a Supervisor, the Supervisor supported the Guards position and I showed identification and signed.

When it came time to speak before the Commission, presenting my claim that the DWP is violating state law (CVC 21) by banning cyclists from the streets while leaving them open to motor vehicles, I pointed out that the DWP was also violating state law, the Brown Act, by refusing to allow me to attend the DWP Commission without showing identification and signing in.

General Counsel to the DWP, Richard M. Brown (no relation to Ralph M.) responded quickly saying “you’re absolutely right! According to the Brown Act, the public has the right to attend meetings without having to identify themselves or provide identification.”

I pointed out that I was there to ask the DWP to stop violating state law at Griffith Park only to find the DWP violating state law at the DWP Commission. The remedy or “cure” for the Brown Act violation is to re-agendize the meeting and reconvene at a later date. I passed on requesting the “cure” but I did ask them to adhere to state law and lift the ban on cyclists in Griffith Park.

My request drew a meeting with Councilman Tom LaBonge, DWP staff and Recreation & Parks staff, all who reiterated that the ban on cyclists would stand.

At the next DWP Commission meeting I repeated the “I’m a member of the public and I’m here to attend a public meeting” request. This time it only took four members of the DWP security detail a consultation with the supervisor, a series of back and forth requests to sign in, a discussion with regards to providing me with an escort and …voilá…I was free to attend the DWP Commission meeting without signing in. This was progress!

I spoke my piece and then DWP Commission Chair Nick Patsaouras graciously noted that this was my second visit the DWP Commission on the same topic and instructed staff to put my issue on the agenda “so it can be resolved.”

As I left the meeting, I had the opportunity to chat with the Deputy Counsel to the DWP, Joseph A. Grajevich, and I pointed out that progress had been made but that it was still an ordeal to invoke the Brown Act at the DWP. He shook his head and said they were working on it. I reminded him that the law was 53 years old and at this rate, I was worried that they would never get to my real concern, the ban on cyclists during the DWP Festival of Lights.

He asked me who was in charge of the DWP Festival of Lights. I chuckled and responded “If it’s successful, there will be many departments responsible, if it’s controversial, it will be an orphan.”

The journey is far from complete. I’ll be at the next DWP Commission meeting on October 7 and I look forward to presenting my proposal to lift the DWP ban on cyclists.

I hope you’ll join me, not just in fighting for my cause, but also in claiming your rights under the Brown Act and in ensuring that those in power are reminded at every opportunity that the Brown Act is a real law and that we expect it to be enforced.

“See you in Chambers!”

(Stephen Box is a community activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

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