CityWatch, May 29, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 43
RETHINKING LA -One of City Hall’s best defenses against public
participation is its charming tradition of vagueness with regard to the
business of the people.
With great regularity the City Council acts with firm authority
and calls on city departments to conduct surveys, to issue reports, and
to return with proposals and drafts suitable for further pontification
and public dissemination. Eventually the activity begins to wane and the
original action dies the most humiliating death, it gets smothered by
dust and simply fades into irrelevance.
As for the members of the
public who were engaged in the initial action, their patience has been
tested, their time has been wasted, and their confidence in the efficacy
of civic engagement has been depleted.
When controversial issues
continue to draw the attention of the public, much to the dismay of the
Council Members who would like to see actions take place in empty
chambers, free of the noise that comes with enthusiastic public
participation, the best way to shake the crowd is to hold it in limbo
until it finds its way on a busy agenda and slips through the system
It requires dedicated and diligent trackers to catch
these items, some of which languish for months before they race for the
finish line on agendas that are typically surrounded by distractions.
the trackers catch these stealth City Council actions and alert the
community, turning out the crowd that insists on speaking in public and
drawing attention to the controversial issue, the next sleight of hand
takes place as the agenda is shuffled and the meeting is drawn out to
such lengths that time runs short, public comment is reduced to the
minimum, and the item in question is held until anything and everything
else is resolved. Hours later, even the hardiest of community members
has had time to rethink their commitment and their hope for meaningful
Observers of LA’s City Council agenda
machinations fall into two schools, those who believe in conspiracy and
those who attribute it all to incompetence.
point to the scheduled absences of Councilmembers and note the issues
that come up while they are gone, a pattern that allows them to maintain
the neutral high road as controversial actions slide through the
The current Hollywood Community Plan is an example of a
hot-topic item that is floating, prompting community members to track
Hollywood Councilmember Eric Garcetti’s scheduled absences in the hopes
of determining when the controversial issue will surface in City
Those who dismiss the foibles of City Council as simple
incompetence need only point to the familiar refrain “What are we voting
on?” that is heard with alarming regularity from a body that gets
better press for debating the background music on the City’s Channel 35
than for actually running the city and delivering the services that the
people depend on.
Through it all, it’s fair to ask “What can we do?”
answer is quite simple, run City Council like a decent restaurant. Hire
a host, take reservations, announce specials in advance, greet the
public, offer them a menu, stick to a schedule, deliver what is
promised, check back to ensure satisfaction, and get paid based on
prompt and satisfactory service.
As simplistic as this sounds,
having a host run the agenda would allow people to check in, determine
when their item would be scheduled for hearing, and return when
Currently, the public sits for hours, afraid to leave for fear their item will be taken out of order.
From London to Toronto, community activists are calling on their city leadership to introduce respect and empathy into the civic engagement process by embracing scheduling as a foundation for robust meetings and hearings.
for LA, there’s nothing wrong with City Hall that can’t be fixed by a
decent maitre d' and a commitment to serve the people on time and