Uniform public hearing protocols approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for all county commissions on August 12th would drastically limit public speaking time on agenda items as well as eliminate standees during meetings.
Small Craft Harbor Commission chair Russ Lesser informed the audience of these hearing protocols Wednesday, October 8th, at the commission’s meeting at the Burton Chace Park Community Building, Marina del Rey.
Until now, a speaker was allowed three minutes on each agenda item, but the new rules stipulate a total of three minutes per speaker per meeting.
Some meeting attendees said this is a violation of The Brown Act, a law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
David Demerjian, head deputy of the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, told The Argonaut that a commission chair has the right to limit the amount of speaking time at meetings, given the sometimes-long agendas, but that the office would look into the situation if a complaint were filed.
Lesser said that at his discretion speakers could still address individual agenda items for a total of three minutes each as long as comments were not repetitive.
The Brown Act Section 54954.3 (a) states, “Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, provided that no action shall be taken on any item not appearing on the agenda unless the action is otherwise authorized by subdivision (b) of Section 54954.2.”
Subdivision (b) states, “The legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent of subdivision (a) is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.”
Subsection (c) states, “The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body. Nothing in this subdivision shall confer any privilege or protection for expression beyond that otherwise provided by law.”
Lesser said that all county commissions conducting public hearings under Brown Act rules must use speaker request cards as a time management tool, something he had eliminated when he took over as chair of the Small Craft Harbor Commission.
Lesser said that at that time he had attempted to create informality, share ideas and have more back-and-forth, but it had not worked well, resulting in a lot of abuse and longer meetings.
Requiring the public to be seated at commission meetings creates potential problems if there is an overflow crowd interested in a particularly important subject, and the Community Building at Burton Chace Park does not have enough seating on some occasions when the public attends to hear about a particular pending development.
The uniform protocol on seating states, “Attendees of the public at the meetings will be limited to that number which can be accommodated by the seating facilities regularly maintained, and no standees are permitted.”
According to these new protocols, at the discretion of the commission chair, any person who commits disruptive conduct — disorderly, contemptuous or insolent behavior toward the commission or any member — a breach of the peace, boisterous conduct or violent disturbance can be removed and excluded from further attendance at the meeting from which he/she has been removed and on the basis of the conduct may not be allowed to address the commission for a maximum of 90 days.
During public comment on the protocols issue, speakers said that time to comment is limited enough, and only allowing three minutes for one subject was punitive in view of all the proposed development projects planned.
VENICE PUMPING PLANT — In other business, it was announced that the City of Los Angeles is scheduled to make its presentation regarding the city’s Venice Pumping Plant Dual Force Main Project at the Small Craft Harbor Commission’s meeting in November.
MONTE CARLO APARTMENTS — A notice of violation was issued to the Monte Carlo Apartments (Parcel 18) lessee, Goldrich & Kest, by the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, Zoning Enforcement Section, after an inspection in May of the premises revealed a violation of the Coastal Development Permit, which requires the lessee to provide 60 market-rate units for rental to senior citizens 62 years of age and older as a condition of the density bonus received by the lessee for development of the parcel, said Santos Kreimann, acting director of Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.
Instead, the lessee reportedly allowed some of the units reserved for senior citizens to be occupied by persons between 55 and 62 years old.
Although the California Civil Code recognizes two types of senior housing — for persons age 62 years and older and for persons 55 and older — and the county’s density bonus ordinance at the time this project was approved allowed either type of senior citizen housing to qualify for a density bonus, the Coastal Development Permit clearly mandates that the units be restricted to persons age 62 years and older.
“In response to the notice of violation, the lessee has agreed, moving forward, to only rent to residents when at least one of the individuals is 62 years or age or older (at least one person residing in the unit must be 62 years or older; restrictions apply to other residents),” states county documentation. “The lessee has also executed and recorded a deed restriction to this effect. Given the lessee’s corrective action, the Department of Regional Planning determined that no further action was warranted at this time.”
OTHER BUSINESS — A discussion on unlawful detainers (evictions) from various marinas for unspecified reasons was continued from a previous meeting, and Lesser said that from now on, his commission wanted data from the various marinas.
During public comment, in addition to commenting on the new protocols, speakers addressed the Goldrich & Kest violation and the Venice Pumping Station sewer project.
A speaker recommended that a fine be levied against Goldrich & Kest for its violation and alleged that the lessee continued to violate rules with no apparent punitive action by the county.
This speaker referred to the fact that Goldrich & Kest had previously failed to charge the correct rental amount at the Capri Apartments for low-income residents in affordable housing apartments for over a year, and not providing leases to them.
After 19 months, Goldrich & Kest sent restitution checks to these tenants, but had not sent leases until after county counsel had again met with the lessees.
Lesser said that the speaker’s comments intrigued him, and that continued violations by this or any lessee should be dealt with by putting specific language into the lease.
“The lessee asks permission, not forgiveness,” said Lesser. “It’s all legal until someone gets caught, and I don’t like it.”
County counsel Tom Faughnan said that the remedy is termination of the leasehold, but that that is a drastic measure. He noted that the County Department of Regional Planning has the authority to impose fines and refer matters to the district attorney for criminal prosecution.
Receiving a density bonus and not complying with regulations is stealing public resources, alleged one speaker.
Other speakers said they are opposed to the proposed Venice sewer project because it would put a main thoroughfare, Via Marina, “out of commission” for a couple of years during the construction.
They asked what the county’s response is to the proposed project and said that the county should deny the easements requested by the City of Los Angeles, forcing the city to run the new sewer line through city property.
Lesser said they are waiting to hear more information about the project, and that in the case of the public good, the fact that the new sewer line would also benefit county as well as city residents, people might have to put up with the inconvenience.