Saturday, November 13, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Politics of Liability

CityWatch, Nov 12, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 90

Community members working to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods encounter many obstacles but none is as insurmountable as City Hall’s arbitrarily imposed threat of municipal liability.

City Council recently convened a joint meeting of the Rules & Elections Committee and the Energy & Environment Committee, opening itself up to concerns over a potential Brown Act violation which was handily sidestepped by issuing a public notice declaring the event a Special Meeting of the City Council. Liability? Protests were summarily dismissed. The single topic meeting addressed several topics including Charter Reform, Citizen Commissions, Representative Government, LADWP Oversight, LADWP Reform and Governance, LADWP Board composition, the creation of the LADWP Inspector General / Ratepayer Advocate position, and a budget to support the Office of Public Accountability.

Current City Council actions related to the upcoming DWP Reform Ballot Measure include stripping the original proposal of its budget commitment and any obligations to perform. The neutering of the Ballot Measure was justified with the explanation that “The City of Los Angeles might get sued! If a promise is made then the city is liable for its performance.”

When City Hall is committed to acting, liability is rarely a concern and legal standards are apparently negotiable.

But when City Hall wants to say “No!” but without the bitter aftertaste, they say yes and smile affirmatively then invoke the well-rehearsed “We’d love to help but concerns over liability prevent us from moving forward.”

When newspaper racks appear overnight and block access to the sidewalk or other street furniture, the public is told that to restrict the distribution of newspapers is to violate the 1st Amendment, opening the City of Los Angeles up to liability.

Community members advocating for traffic calming measures such as roundabouts, bulbouts, and refuge islands, are told that such innovations could confuse motorists, opening the City of Los Angeles up to liability.

Cyclists advocating for the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights experienced rejection, hearing from the LADOT that references to the 1st and 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “fall under the federal purview” and that interfering with the federal government opens the City of Los Angeles up to liability.

Liability is no longer a legal standard in LA, it is simply a tool for imposing insurmountable obstacles on the public while liberating City Hall of a reciprocal commitment to performance.

Los Angeles will be well on its way to becoming a Great City when liability is no longer a political tool but an element of accountability that is used objectively and fairly to ensure the equitable and fair delivery of City Services to the people of Los Angeles.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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