Lost in Translation: Courage and Civility

ERIC PREVEN’S NOTEBOOK - On Tuesday, the board lumped the entire Supplemental Budget Meeting into its regularly scheduled board meeting agenda, so it was virtually impossible for the public to speak before or during consideration of those items. 

Public comment was closed before the Supervisors bellowed on thanking one another and the CEO, Fesia Davenport.  

As usual, a number of departments are being re branded and Sheila was passionate about sticking "workforce development" ahead of "economic development" in the name of the new department. She wants to "put the workforce first" in an otherwise ordinary workaround. 

I had a comment but... there was no way. 

Sheila Kuehl, sometimes referred to by the Los Angeles Times as a progressive icon feels that the board's "tireless efforts" are paying off.  

The county's annual budget has risen 70% to an eye-popping $39 billion for 2021-22 up from $23 billion in 2011-12 when I first stumbled into my first triple AAA rated county bond meeting. Sorry, board meeting.  

Each of the five districts has ten times the number of constituents per supervisor than your typical corrupted or uncorrupted City of Los Angeles council member.  Over 2 million each.  

The Public Integrity Division of the LA County DA's office was created by former District Attorney of Los Angeles, Steve Cooley with the political support of Michael D. Antonovich, the longtime Republican County Supervisor from the fifth district.  

It was a progressive idea at the time.  An oversight department of DA that would go around hassling political rivals while protecting political allies and frenemies.  Not far off a kind of in house "secret police."  Think, China! 

The department would help government agencies comply with the Brown Act by filing charges against violators. We're still waiting to see this group in action.  

The  Public Integrity Division PID who refuses to come to the phone are different from the County's Quality and Productivity Commission and its Economy and Efficiency commission in they report to Gascon, not the Supervisors.   

Gascon was recently elected and has capably batted away the various attempts to recall him.  

But if the Public Integrity division is simply unable to do the job of holding the Board and Council accountable to the Brown Act, let's consider disbanding the division and putting the money to better use. 
The Board of Supervisors must feel very empowered to stay the course of shame.   

We have been reaching out publicly to everyone we can think of insisting that the Board discontinue the draconian and insidious practice of reducing comments on such important items and replacing public meetings with closed sessions. 

Where does Mr. Gascon stand... Dial tone  # 


Zucchini Bread: 

Despite Joe Buscaino's effort to make any disturbance of the proposed vaccination mandate, a criminal harassment offense and to establish a new fund to promote training, the L.A. City Council passed the ordinance 11-2. 

There was no second for Buscaino's motion, so the CLA won't have to respond, but Mark Ridley-Thomas saw an opportunity to thank Paul Krekorian for his deft dismissal of Mr. Buscaino's motion that MRT called "well taken."   

But, "Madame president, it seems to me... Mr. Buscaino's ideas deserve more vetting... which is the committee process. A full vetting is needed," he blathered on disingenuously. 

"To be thoughtful about decision making, we need a much more deliberative process, because even if fully meritorious, when motions are so spontaneous, they cannot be thoughtfully disposed of... and given the weightiness...they deserve."     

Disposed of, indeed. What a wind bag.   

This was the very same Mark "Don Quixote" Ridley Thomas and trusty sidekick Gilbert "Sancho Panza" Cedillo who were flanking Marqueece Harris Dawson last month as he refused to take public comments on substantial amendments to an item that changed the very heart of the motion around Weddington Golf and Tennis in Studio City. 

Instead of the entire site being preserved, the council moved to only preserve part of the site. A total bait and switch 'play' capably run by Karo Torossian of CD2 and Edgar Khalatian of Mayer Brown with Terry Kaufman-Macias ignoring the Brown Act.   

Mr. Khalatian who reps Harvard Westlake and the Mayor and Richard Bruckner, MRT's best buddy, have bunk desks over at Mayer Brown.  

To refresh the memory, Bruckner was the former department head at LA County Regional Planning, who jumped into lobbying too soon, invading the mandated holdback on such activities with Watt Companies. Bruckner tried to deliver on 100% county and MTA land a mere 15% affordable... but he forgot about the lobbying rules. 

Public Integrity Division could still be investigating, but the wait times over there make Mr, Ridley-Thomas seem like a fast talker. 

And if you call over to the professional law enforcement offices that are very nice subsequent to the Ritz Carlton style renovation of the DA's offices, to discuss a sensitive matter, they refuse to take the call.   At least, the Head Deputy of the Public Integrity Division, Sean Hassett, won't come to the phone.   

We asked Sharon Woo, Chief Deputy of the Los Angeles District Attorneys office, how this was representative government?  But she has not had enough time to review and respond.   If the new progressive District Attorney George Gascon could explain --  

Why does the Public Integrity Division who are largely responsible for enforcing Brown Act compliance in LA County not taking telephone calls?  Porque no? 

As for the Planning and Land Use meeting, the City has been served a cure and correct.   

Mr. Hassett, should pay attention, he and the department might learn something... again. 


Lost in Translation:

Americans have always recognized that free speech is worth defending, even if it comes with tradeoffs and at significant price. 

European-style restrictions might sometimes seem enticing as a way to fight extremism and disinformation at a time when American democracy seems to be in crisis, but we don't want to devolve into a place where calling the interior and sports minister for the city of Hamburg “a dick” on Twitter can result in six police officers barging into your home. True story and very good discussion on Persuasion

It's a delicate balance which is why in 2016 the LA City Council canceled it's public meeting due to not enough members being in town to form the required quorum.   

Council members Bob Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo, Curren Price and now defrocked federal prisoner Mitchell Englander would be in Europe taking part in a Cisco Systems-led tour of Hamburg, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark, two cities where private citizens and governments have connected the internet into various household objects and day-to-day functions. 

 The “smart and connected cities” tour included a stop at Hamburg’s fully automated inland port. Would love to apply some automation to the 89 vessel port backlog and environmental disaster.   

And we may as well thank Arnie Berghoff and his wife who gets him around the no-donations from lobbyists ordinance, Linda Berghoff and Brianna Knabe and all the executives with the telecom hardware giant, Cisco, for showing our council members and federal prisoner a rip roaring good time #HangoverEuropeanEdition2016


Wheels of democracy:  

At the center of the news cycle this week is the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen recommending that congress set limits on what can be shared on social media platforms. We simply can't trust a company that puts astronomical profits before people, she argued. 

Hard not to agree.   Her testimony was confirmation of what the Facebook civic integrity team and anyone else who has ever had contact with a teenager knows -- teenagers don't self regulate. For the record, neither do most full grown citizens, in my experience.   

Even Mr. Los Angeles, Tom LaBonge, who was being honored by city council at the nine month mark of his passing on Wednesday, because the City Council couldn't wait for a year, and it would have been his 68th birthday this week, allegedly had very little impulse control.   

At least according to Bob Blumenfield of the 3rd district who was joining a rising chorus of funny stories about LaBonge, and how he once called LADWP on a lark during a public meeting to see about wait times.   


Pumpkin Memorial:

Egalitarians tend to view speech restrictions as a serious violation. Governments cannot legitimately limit the opinions of the people they represent, and even well-intentioned attempts to do so are likely to be abused to serve the interests of those in power.  

Tom LaBonge, who had a penchant for handing out loaves of pumpkin bread made by nuns at Hollywood's Monastery of the Angels would not have liked the current Council President's ban on protests in neighborhoods where elected officials live. It could lead to a pumpkin bread ban. 

The more elitist view of free speech has traditionally been concerned about the unmoderated spread of dangerous ideas among the uneducated masses, who—it is thought—are easy to manipulate. Kids, the argument goes, are helpless in the face of ... a lot of things, including advertising.  

Here in the United States of America, a string of landmark Supreme Court decisions in the 1950s and 1960s ensured the people's right to protest peacefully in favor of unpopular ideas and to sharply criticize public officials. We have the "old"  ACLU and NAACP to thank for these victories.  

Our American system has confidence that the people will decide how to balance competing interests, if given access to clear accurate information through a free press. That promise can be challenging given the many paywalls and firewalls and corrupt officials.  

I had to have a girl friend read out loud sections of the Washington Post coverage about the scandalous "Pandora" billionaire laundromat in the great state of South Dakota.  

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos owns WaPo and CNN contributor Van Jones won the Courage and Civility Award $100M.

Also, Donald Trump was not, for the first time in recent memory, included on Forbes top 400 wealthiest list. 


Hangover: South Dakota Edition: 

The City was not taking comments on the public banking item on Tuesday, but Bonin told KNX1070 that it would be an "economic engine to deliver on equity."  Why not hear from the people?  If we are going to hear from the windbags, the people should have a chance to speak.   

A remote location in the midwest is ideally suited to reduce banking disclosure regulations to... practically meaningless.  

Why bother shlepping to Hamburg with Arnie Berghoff? 

Jefferson understood that “the basis of our governments, being the opinion of the people,"  had to be protected.  Getting the people an informed opinion would fall on the free press. CityWatchLA has been called a national treasure.   The LA Times has been called other names.  

Thomas Jefferson understood we would need to hold our governing soundrels accountable. He famously stated his preference for a world full of newspapers without government rather than “a government without newspapers.”  As I read in Persuasion this week... 

The First Amendment’s architect James Madison explained that the constitutional protection of press freedom was an expression of the “perfect equality between all men” and noted the differences between America and Britain. In Britain, Parliament was sovereign, but in America, the people—not Congress—were ultimately sovereign. This explained why in America, Madison argued, the First Amendment barred Congress from banning even false statements intended to excite the “hatred of the people” against the government, which were routinely punished as seditious in Britain. Such powers would violate “that right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.”  

Alene Tchekmedyian of the LA Times was tweeting about Sheriff  Alex Villanueva's record on officer involved shootings, but when I read his revised press release she left out,  "Although a coroner inquest may provide for good political theater from which to launch political attacks, this will be a colossal waste of tax dollars and will not produce a single shred of new information."  

Who should mediate between the public officials and the press?   

The public, silly! Read the warning,   

Members of the public wishing to address the board and offer public comment should call as indicated on the agenda,  

We will allocate up to XX minutes for public comment on all of the items. If there are no speakers waiting before XX minutes have elapsed, we will close public comment.  When speaking on an agenda item, you must be on topic. Our goal is to get through as many speakers as we can. If you are not speaking on a topic, or if we cannot tell if you are speaking on an agenda item, you will get one warning from county counsel or the chair. If you do not immediately or clearly get on topic, or if you stray off topic again, you will forfeit the rest of the your time, and the chair will move to the next speaker. Please note: that if you are also listening to the board meeting on a computer or  speaker phone, you will need to turn down the volume on those devices as soon as the moderator calls on you or there will be an echo. 


 (Eric Preven is a longtime community activist and is a contributor to CityWatch.)