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Here’s What You Missed Last Week at LA City Council

A recap of Los Angeles City Council meetings on February 8 and 9.

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Art by Sandra Markarian for Knock LA

LA City Council Meeting 2/8/22

This was a pretty busy meeting. There was a motion to have the Personnel Department investigate city employee involvement in the January 6 insurrection and report on the city’s social media policy regarding hate speech. Another item asked the city attorney’s office to write an ordinance regarding the sale and maintenance of bicycles in public. There were also some motions that would affect affordable housing in the city and a motion that would change street lights from being powered by the current electrical grid to being powered by solar panels. All the items passed, so let’s take a deeper look at what they entail. 

Item 11 asked the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance “to prohibit the assembly, disassembly, sale, offer of sale, distribution of bicycles and bicycle parts on public property or within the public right-of-way, modeled after a similar ordinance in the City of Long Beach.” This motion was hotly debated and had the closest vote (10–4), with CD 11 Councilmember Mike Bonin, CD 4 Councilmember Nithya Raman, CD 8 Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and CD 9 Councilmember Curren Price voting against it. In the discussion, CD 15 Councilmember Joe Buscaino — who had been absent until this point — talked about how bikes are stolen and taken to “chop shops” to be sold for parts. 

While all the other councilmembers who spoke acknowledged that bike theft is an issue, Raman, Bonin, and Harris-Dawson made some great points about how this item would cause problems for people who aren’t breaking the law. Raman stated that we already have laws on the books that would prohibit the behaviors described (e.g., bike theft, blocking sidewalks). Some councilmembers said these laws are insufficient, but the real issue probably lies with cops not doing their jobs (which they are bad at and shouldn’t be doing anyway). Harris-Dawson spoke about his personal experiences with bikes. He said he often had hand-me-downs which would have no proof of ownership, and he often had to fix them while out and about. This ordinance would have caused problems for him, and many others in similar situations. CD 2 Councilmember Paul Krekorian made some claims about how bad bike theft is in his district, including the claim that all of the Metro Bike Share bicycles installed by the city were stolen (which is untrue). Bonin referenced some ways in which CD 15 has acted illegally in the past, including when it allowed Lime Scooters to operate and allowed al fresco dining before either of these items were approved by the city. Bonin also called Buscaino’s motion political theater, which Buscaino pushed back on. Whether or not it is political theater, it is bad policy, and hopefully the council will not approve whatever ordinance the city administrative officer comes up with.

On a happier note, there were a couple of items that may help create more affordable housing around the city. Item 32 gave some money for a specific project within CD 14 as part of the Measure HHH efforts, and items 34 and 35 asked a few departments to report back on how to implement SB 9. Some public commenters worried report-backs would slow down the process, while others felt that the information would be important to ensure effective changes are put in place. One caller wanted the councilmembers to include a requirement that new housing units will be affordable. We definitely need more affordable housing in this city, and if the implementation of SB9 makes the situation worse, we will be in some real trouble.

Item 10 asked the Personnel Department to report about any city employee’s involvement in the January 6 insurrection, and any related disciplinary actions. It also asked for a report about the city’s social media policies and their relation to hate speech and the first amendment. One caller pointed out that it seemed a bit late to be doing this and — frankly — this does seem like something that should have been done a long time ago. But I guess it’s better late than never. 

Item 13 put money toward switching street lights from being powered by the electrical grid to being powered by solar panels attached to the poles. Instead of focusing on the environmental impact, which is the main benefit of this program, the councilmembers focused on public safety and copper wire theft. CD 13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell mentioned his efforts to keep people from stealing the copper wire on a bike path in his district. He said they put concrete slabs over the access point, but someone jackhammered through the slab to steal the wire. I don’t know why the councilmembers think that installing solar panels so wires don’t extend to ground level would change anything. People are inventive, and often desperate enough to do what it takes to get to the wire. While good lighting can help make areas safer, making crimes harder to commit rarely reduces crime. It does not address the root causes, which is what is required to actually reduce crime.

LA City Council Meeting 2/9/22

On Wednesday, Mike Bonin spoke at length about the need for police accountability. The city currently spends about $3.1 billion per year on a police force that has killed nearly a thousand people since 2000. In a particularly deadly week just before Christmas 2021, the LAPD shot six people, killing five. On December 23, 2021, an LAPD officer shot and killed two people in a Burlington Coat Factory in North Hollywood. One of the victims was a 14-year-old girl named Valentina Orellana Peralta.

Two items on Wednesday’s agenda called for the LAPD to offer context and explanations for its actions. Item 31 requests a report by the LAPD detailing every police shooting in 2021, whether each one complied with LAPD’s Use of Force Policy, and how this compares to previous years. Item 32 requires the immediate public release of unedited body camera footage, radio transmissions, and 911 calls from the 12/23 killings in North Hollywood on December 23. It also calls for an update on LAPD’s internal investigation, presses the police to comply with state investigations, and calls for a report on LAPD’s policies around killing people. Both items passed, but first Bonin requested time to speak on them.

Bonin pointed to major issues in LAPD’s culture: rather than looking to reduce police killings, officers often celebrate and even profit off them. Toni McBride, for example, is an Instagram influencer and police officer. McBride shot and killed Daniel Vergera in April 2020, then attempted to sell merchandise making light of police killings. Her father, also a police officer, has shot six people. Their Newton division shot so many civilians it gave itself the nickname “Shootin’ Newton,” and McBride offered discount codes on Instagram for mugs and t-shirts with the phrase. Bonin called this behavior “disturbing.”

Pushing back on the “crime wave” narrative being spun by police departments and many media outlets, Bonin noted that police killings are increasing at a far higher rate than among the general population. Police are city employees, Bonin reminded his colleagues, and it’s the city’s responsibility to screen, train, and discipline them.

Bonin recalled that in 2017, he and all but one member of the council voted for Measure C, a change in policy around disciplining police. The Los Angeles Police Protective League spent at least $839,000 supporting that measure, and groups like Black Lives Matter–Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California opposed it. In his Wednesday remarks, Bonin said the council needs to “reconsider whether or not that was the right change.”

Noting that police disproportionately target Black and Latinx communities, as well as people with mental illnesses, Bonin said he hopes the LAPD report will analyze demographics of the victims of police violence. He would also like the report to document whether police ever attempted a response to mental health crises apart from killing people.

Many callers expressed their opinions on the agenda’s first item, which will reduce restrictions on restaurants selling alcohol. Some said that’d be great for small businesses, while others — including several callers from the California Drug Policy Alliance — worried it would only worsen increasing rates of alcoholism and drunk driving. The council approved the plan, which will create a Restaurant Beverage Program and “Alcohol Sensitive Use Zone.”

Wednesday’s agenda also included a decision on whether to accept $150,000 for unspecified “homeless services” and $100,000 for graffiti removal, all for Council District 14. That combination of services reflects LA’s general approach to homelessness as an aesthetic issue rather than a moral one. The money was offered by Lightstone DTLA, a foreign real estate development company with $6.5 billion in assets, mostly luxury housing. Several callers said that by accepting the money, the City Council would enable Councilmember Kevin de León to continue in the corruption of his predecessor José Huizar. At Huizar’s urging, in 2018 the council handed the Lightstone group over $103,000,000 in “public assistance” for a planned high-rise hotel building. Huizar is currently under federal investigation for 34 counts of real estate–related racketeering, fraud, and money laundering from his time as a city councilmember.

Both of Wednesday’s items passed without commentary from any councilmembers.