CityWatch, Oct 11, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 81
RETHINKING LA - LA’s City Council deserves an award for its ability to conduct its business with a straight face, on the one hand feigning sincerity as it embraces the Occupy LA movement while simultaneously imposing property liens on Angelenos in actions that can’t be explained, let alone justified.
Last Tuesday, speakers from the Occupy LA movement appeared in City Council chambers and spoke passionately about the issues that have prompted people across the country to speak up about corporate personhood, the collapsing economy, home foreclosures, economic inequity, social injustice, restricted access to healthcare and education, and a government that no longer represents the people.
City Councilmembers responded enthusiastically. Zine declared “The City Council is a non-profit organization.” Rosendahl bubbled “This is the American Autumn.” Reyes echoed “I want to join the choir.” Alarcon patted the city on the back saying “I want to commend the LAPD for working with us to ensure safety, so the message is the message, not about clashes.”
The City Council went on to issue a motion that ran for three pages, touching on the many issues that have prompted Angelenos to grab a piece of the Occupy LA movement, then concluding with an affirmation of Occupy LA’s 1st Amendment rights.
Kum. Ba. Yah!
Much was made of the Councilmembers who ventured from the Council Chambers and onto City Hall’s north lawn, home of the Occupy LA campsite that spends days on the grass and nights on the cement in an obedient nod to LA’s municipal code that allows camping, just not comfortable camping.
Rosendahl and Garcetti not only toured, they requested permission to speak. “Stay as long as you need," Garcetti told them. "We’re here to support you.” He then shouted “This is your City Hall!” and the crowd responded "This is our City Hall!"
Missing from the highlights of that day is the series of lien actions and variance requests that came before the City Council, all of which clearly demonstrated that in Los Angeles, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
A resident of Jan Perry’s district appeared before the City Council to point out that he inherited a property that came with a burned out building, a fence, and a City of LA lien that prevented him from moving forward to improve the property, to sell the property, to do anything other than to allow the blight to continue.
Does it take a City Council appearance to get the attention of the Council office? Does it take the City Council office to get the attention of Building & Safety? Does it require a special administrative hearing to pursue fair and effective enforcement of the city’s codes and standards by Building & Safety?
Apparently, yes. Councilwoman Perry quickly asked for a continuance and promised to look at the matter.
Ronald & Florence Miller then took to the podium in response to citations for excessive vegetation on their property. After their first notice, they hired gardeners to attend to the “excessive” vegetation. They then called for another inspection, which the city performed but when pressed, the inspector was unable to define “excessive” nor was he able to rule on the issue of compliance.
The property owners persisted but got no response from Building & Safety. They claim to have heard nothing until they received a notice of a debt in collections from a private party. They protested the collections and the debt, putting the issue back into the hands of the City of LA which again failed to respond, until it placed a lien on the Miller property.
Ronald Miller was cut off as his two minutes expired. He paused and his wife yielded her time so that he could continue speaking. Councilman Zine refused to allow Florencia to yield her time, requiring her to continue where her husband left off.
Zine may have regretted his rigidity when Florencia went on to claim violations of the right to due process, the right to face one’s accuser, the right to participate in an appeal process, and the right to be free of malicious prosecution, the uneven application of the law, and the discriminatory impact of selective prosecution.
Most of all, the entire City Council may have regretted Zine’s heavy-handedness when Florencia paused and changed topics, addressing the Council and calling them out on their inability to pay attention. “I’ve noticed that when people are speaking here, everybody is doing something else. It feels extremely bad to come here to speak to you and to feel ignored,” said Florencia, “I guess that is how the legal process works.”
Councilmember Ed Reyes stood to defend the behavior of the multi-tasking Councilmembers, explaining “I’m doing two or three things at the same time, it pains me to think that what you have to say has no value, it does. I am listening. The trip here was worth it.”
The Council then immediately contradicted Councilman Reyes by voting unanimously to support the Department of Building & Safety’s recommendation of a lien to be placed on the property as a result of the “excessive” vegetation that was removed in 2009.
The hypocritical nature of the City Council’s strict adherence to municipal policy, municipal code, and administrative process was immediately demonstrated as Councilmember Koretz called the next item on the agenda “special” and then bent over backward to offer a stakeholder a “categorical exemption” to the law and to land use restrictions. In an effort to get around the requirement for a zone change, Koretz supported a variance request in a replay of a Council action that was recently reversed by the Court of Appeals which held that the City Council simply does not have the authority.
Recent legal rulings be damned, Koretz moved to support the variance request of a favored stakeholder who can claim no legal foundation for the R-1 conversion of a rec room into an illegal apartment, resulting in a special consideration that contradicts the ruling of the zoning administrator.
The Council then “listened” to legal objections, to protests from the community, to the presentation of letters and a petition in opposition to the variance, and then they voted unanimously to support the variance.
LA’s City Council goes about its business with a straight face, at times throwing its hands in the air and claiming to be limited by the law, while at other times, throwing the law in the air and claiming unlimited authority to apply mercy to insiders and punishment to those on the fringe.
As LA’s City Council prepares to continue with the charade of embracing the ideals of Occupy LA, it is important that the Councilmembers accept the fact that the City Council and its uneven application of the law, its selective enforcement of the law, and its failure to end the “divisive economic and social realities” is what makes the LA City Council the subject of the Occupy LA protest, not its partner.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)