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Thu, Jun

Human Compassion in Short Supply in LA’s City Council Chambers

LOS ANGELES

CITY HALL--The vast majority of Angelenos who show up at LA City Council meetings to address their representatives have never been there before. They come from every corner of the city, from every age group, and for different reasons, but there’s one thing they all have in common—genuine, heart-felt passion about their reason for coming. Without such feeling, those Angelenos could never find the impetus to take time off from—and to risk losing—their jobs, to find a caretaker for their young kids, or, as a senior citizen, to venture out into the unfamiliar and frightening web of buses and subways. 

The expectations with which they come to a City Council meeting--of what will happen when they take those fateful few steps up to the public comment podium, when the agenda item for which they’ve travelled all this way to speak with their representatives, is called up by the Council President--vary as much as do their reasons for coming.  

But there’s one thing none of them expect, but which is true at least half of the time—that they won’t be allowed to address the Council at all. 

Sometimes the bad news is delivered politely by the Sergeant-at-Arms, sometimes curtly, but the effect is devastating regardless.  

The reasons they are turned away? The most frequent cause is that the agenda item was already “taken up in committee”-- and the Brown Act says that if an opportunity for public comment is given at a committee meeting, then the Council doesn’t have to hear public comment at the regular meeting.  

Sometimes the reason for the bad news is that the Council has decided—during the meeting—to “continue” the agenda item to another date. That means they’ve decided not to address the issue that day but instead to do it at a future meeting.   

Other times the reason for denial of public comment is that the item was “already approved,” as a result of Council President Wesson taking up the issue in the first few seconds of the meeting, even if the item appears near the end of the published agenda.  

In every one of the cases, Council President Wesson can easily make it possible for these Angelenos to make their comment. And yet he rarely does that.  

Even for the lucky ones who make it up to the podium to say their piece there is disappointment. They will find many of the Council members … often as many as half or more … are missing, or engaged in side conversations, or, as happened recently, holding a press conference.
It’s heartbreaking. It’s wrong. And on Friday, on a motion by Paul Krekorian, the amount of time afforded to those who made the journey down to City Hall to address their representatives was cut in half.  

How much time does that give? Five minutes? Three? No, the answer is one. A single minute. 

It’s no wonder that the respect level for politicians is at an all time low. It’s no wonder that voter turnout at Los Angeles elections is embarrassingly miniscule. It’s no wonder that more citizens than ever before are going to court to get the attention of their representatives. As former LA Councilman Joel Wachs said in his run for mayor as far back as 1992, the people have become cynical about government and no longer believe anyone is listening or capable of understanding them. 

It’s interesting to imagine how successful a politician might be, in today’s cynical climate, if he or she were to give a promise of human compassion a high priority in their political campaigns. Of course that would require that they possess that quality in the first place. And, based on the treatment of constituents in the Los Angeles City Council chambers, human compassion is running in short supply.

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government. He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a CityWatch contributor and teacher who lives in Los Angeles.) –cw

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