public comment during a meeting.
Council: Union members packed the meeting.


The Santa Monica City Council failed to conduct its agendized business Tuesday night after a confusing and ultimately aborted attempt to regulate noise from labor protests

The Santa Monica City Council failed to conduct its agendized business Tuesday night after a confusing and ultimately aborted attempt to regulate noise from labor protests (and accompanying public comment) prompted councilmembers to walk away from the meeting rather than stay late to finish the regular workload.

The unprecedented failure to extend a meeting exposed deep fissures in the council both personal and political.

Tuesday’s meeting featured a proposal by Councilmembers Phil Brock and Lana Negrete to regulate noise within the city. The Councilmembers were asking for staff to draft new rules limiting overnight noise, request state lobbying efforts to allow the use of sound-activated devices to enforce vehicle noise limits, evaluate noise related vehicle codes and evaluate the cost of using sound-activated devices to enforce noise limits on the Promenade.

The first item in the list was seen as an effort to crack down on noise from labor protests and the proposal brought a huge contingent of union members to the meeting who wanted to participate in public comment on the topic.

However, it took about five hours before the subject came up for council discussion. At that time, Councilmember Phil Brock removed the first section of the item saying he was concerned about keeping the public speakers at the meeting even longer.

“I know that many of these people have to be at work at their hotels early, early in the morning, and they’ve been here many hours longer than they thought they would be. And I pledged to their leaders tonight that we were not going to try and do anything onerous,” Brock said.

However, the more than 45 speakers did not disperse but chose to stay and criticize the now abandoned effort during public comment.

“We have to remain loud because no one is listening to us … Councilmember Brock’s request would imply that nobody could freely protest anymore. That would include all worker’s unions. This also includes tenants unions, in which many Santa Monica residents organize themselves to fight against the unfair treatment by their landlords,” said Elizabeth Koch, UAW local 2865 at UCLA.

“These people are your constituents. Moreover, Councilmember Brock’s request fits into an alarming trend in Southern California, where employers and politicians are trying to bypass our guaranteed freedom of speech when labor is concerned … Therefore, I ask you to reject councilmember Brock’s request to amend the municipal code that would limit workers rights to protest peacefully.”

The stream of criticism prompted protests from Brock and Negrete who said the council has traditionally cut off and prevented comments on items that are not on the agenda. They argued that much of the comment being provided was about the now pulled item and pointed to comments that were about the ongoing labor issue, not the agendized item of noise.

“My question is not so much about personal privilege, but I have watched you often tell people that they cannot speak about something because it’s not on the agenda. So for making a political move here, to serve political debts, that’s one thing, but I think we’re running a meeting…” said Councilwoman Negrete.

Mayor Davis took offense to the insinuation that the process was being political and said that Council had no way to preemptively know what someone was going to say when they approached the microphone. She said speakers could have addressed any topic during earlier public comment but did not do so because up to that point, the controversial item had remained on the agenda.

“You waited until these people sat here all night to do that. You managed to withdraw a matter earlier in the evening, so you clearly know how to do that. If you had wanted to withdraw the first part of 16D at 5:30, these people could have all gone home,” she said.

Davis defended keeping the comments open despite a lack of relevance to the agenda.

“I think it is grossly unfair that they have sat through this whole evening and in a last minute maneuver, which you are perfectly capable of doing, I let you do it, but to then tell them that they can’t speak … from my perspective, as the chair of the meeting, I’m giving them the opportunity to speak. If you feel that you have been attacked or mentioned … I will recognize a point of personal privilege at the end of this. But I would like to let these people speak,” she said.

Brock attempted to defend his decision, “Mayor, I did not know, at anytime, at 5:30 or at six o’clock, that I could have bifurcated the item and removed part of it. In fact, I talked to one of the union people and told him what I want to do, but I didn’t believe I had the authority or ability to do that at that time,” he said.

“If I was mistaken, I was wrong. However, I was trying to make sure that people could go home. I believe they have a very salient point about the violence at the Miramar. That’s not on the agenda however, but I understand that they have been upset for a month about that and not able to speak. So if we want to go ahead with that, that’s fine,” Brock said.

However Brock reiterated that the agenda was about noise and regardless of his now aborted item, some of the comments were clearly not on topic for the night.

“But Mayor Pro Tempore Negrete has a valid point that usually we would stop people, regardless of how long they’ve been here. And I apologize to them for all of them being here so long, because I know they have to be at work in the morning. So I’m fine if they go ahead,” he said.

The personal sniping between councilmembers was briefly interrupted by City Attorney Doug Sloan who was frantically trying to research the legality of the current discussion.

“I didn’t anticipate this,” said Sloan, adding, “We’re verifying whether legally the public is entitled to speak on an item that has been removed from the agenda in the midst of a meeting. We’re trying to verify that, for sure, one way or the other.”

Sloan ultimately said the Council was not required to hear comments on the abandoned item but a frustrated council used a parliamentary tactic to just wholesale reopen public comment allowing any and all speakers to be heard.

With the meeting sailing past 10 o’clock in the evening, gathered speakers voiced their grievances over how picketing workers had been treated, or attacked, with instances at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel being mentioned on multiple occasions. Comments continued with protests over poor working conditions and unrealistic salaries, plus calls for an investigation to be conducted into the incidents reported at the Fairmont.

At the conclusion of the comments, Council had yet to start any meaningful discussion of its agenda, including an emergency ordinance related to scooters, discussion of virtual meeting participation and the proposal to build 570 housing units downtown but in accordance with rules designed to prevent long meetings, a motion was needed to continue the meeting beyond 11 p.m. It was made by Councilmember Caroline Torosis and seconded by Councilmember Jesse Zwick, both of whom had been noticeably silent throughout the evening’s affairs. The motion failed as Councilmembers Christine Parra, Oscar de la Torre, Brock and Negrete all voted against.

The missed items will be rolled over to a future meeting, most likely on Sept. 26.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.