City Hall (File photo)

In a room on the second floor of City Hall, Councilmember Sue Himmelrich sat behind a table laden with coffee and snacks, waiting for constituents to come speak with her. Just two people showed up to the City Council office Tuesday afternoon.

Himmelrich announced at City Council earlier this month and in various Santa Monica Facebook groups that she will be holding office hours about twice a month. The office hours are intended to be a forum for community members to speak with an elected representative about civic issues.

More than 100 people commented on Himmelrich’s Facebook posts announcing her office hours. Many praised the idea, while others criticized it and suggested other ways Himmelrich could make herself accessible to constituents.

The online discussion didn’t make it to City Hall, however.

Himmelrich acknowledged that many people can’t take time off work in the afternoon and intends to hold office hours in the mornings, evenings and weekends at different locations. The rain that hit Santa Monica particularly hard that day may have also deterred people from attending, she said.

Still, she said, she is confused as to why so few community members made an appearance, especially because Council is appointing a new member Jan. 22. She said she thought at least some of the applicants for the Council seat, which now numbers almost 40, would come by.

“I think people complain frequently that (councilmembers) aren’t accessible,” she said. “This is an opportunity for people who want to talk about the City.”

Many residents feel disconnected from Council and the decisions it makes, said Mary Marlow, who serves on the board of the Santa Monica Transparency Project, a government watchdog. She said she thinks office hours will make City Hall more responsive to community concerns.

“Most people just don’t feel they have the opportunity to be heard, much less listened to, and this is a wonderful start,” Marlow said. “I hope other councilmembers join in.”

Himmelrich said she hopes other councilmembers follow suit. So far, only Councilmember Greg Morena has said he plans to join the office hours.

Zina Josephs, president of the neighborhood organization Friends of Sunset Park, said she thinks the office hours will encourage better communication between Council and residents.

“The ways we have to communicate now are speaking for two minutes at Council meetings after waiting for hours, or sending emails that rarely get a response,” Josephs said. “I think it would help councilmembers understand residents’ concerns and views on various issues.”

Himmelrich is holding her next office hours on Jan. 29 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at City Hall.


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