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Strange things are afoot at City Hall
Have you ever seen someone toss a metal pipe at the city manager?
Until now, me neither. And that was merely one of the strange things that happened during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, which also happened to be its only meeting this month.
The curtailed schedule led to a collision of demonstrations. City leaders, for instance, held a Native American Heritage Month celebration outside City Hall just a few feet from a large rally demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.
And inside the council chambers hoteliers, Downtown business folk and others intent on supporting the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s push to shield some of its future activities from public scrutiny jockeyed for seats on the “city side” of the chambers as protesters crowded in elsewhere.
One was former Councilmember Dee Andrews, who, records show, received a gift basket and at least one $125 bottle of wine paid for with the CVB’s publicly funded budget. He spoke in favor of the organization’s request.
And just as things began to quiet down, a contingent of refuse workers armed with a bullhorn paraded into the chambers demanding raises.
“What do we want?”
More money, of course.
“When do we want it?”
That quickly drew a rebuke from Mayor Rex Richardson who issued a warning to the group, which under new council rules allows the mayor to kick people out of a meeting if they continue to be disruptive.
To assure my managing editor Jeremiah Dobruck that the circus tent we were currently sitting under was not a weekly occurrence I turned to my right and whispered, “This is not a normal meeting.”
What was normal about it, though, was how the order in which business was completed seemed to lay bare the council’s priorities. I’ve always tried to figure out my coverage plan by what I’ll call the “suit” rule.
That means people in suits don’t wait, so those votes will happen first.
The city’s municipal code lays out the rules for City Council meetings including the order in which things should go. The moment of silence follows the roll call, which is followed by the pledge of allegiance and so on.
However, the presiding officer (typically the mayor) has a lot of power over how things unfold to “ensure an efficient flow of the meeting.” The mayor can actually assign where the council members — and newspaper reporters — sit. And, as long as the council doesn’t object, they can — and often do — reorder the agenda to move certain topics up sooner, often for people wearing suits.
There were 75 items on the agenda but the first 46 were part of the “consent calendar” which is approved in one vote. Typically, the first round of public comment would come after that, but the CVB item (No. 55) was the first to make it to the floor, which led to quite a backdrop for CVB President and CEO Steve Goodling who boasted about the tens of millions of dollars the organization brought into the city in front of a sea of signs calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The crowd was at some points raucous and broke out into sarcastic applause and jeers while one of the more powerful men in Long Beach made his case. This of course could have been avoided if public comment were allowed to happen ahead of his presentation. But I just work here.
Then came another reshuffling. Item 49, backed by organized labor — and a political operative from the powerful LA County Federation of Labor sitting in the back row — being called before item 47, the much-anticipated street vendor ordinance.
By rule, hearings, which the vendor ordinance was, are supposed to be held before the first round of public comment. Both are supposed to be held before regular items are heard. But none of those people were wearing suits.
Now, back to that metal pipe.
The pipe was tossed by one of the city’s refuse workers who are in a contract dispute with the city. If you remember, the city has had issues hiring trash truck drivers and had to offer bonuses to ramp up hiring, but workers have said for months they’re still underpaid. One even mentioned the potential for a strike.
They came into the council meeting around 4:30 p.m. — it normally starts at 5 p.m. — and were denied access to the first public comment time. That meant they’d have to wait for the second public comment period at the end of the meeting — unless, of course, the mayor moved it up, which he didn’t.
The pipe was thrown sometime after 11 p.m. after the worker holding it said it was the same one that sprang off a trash can and caused a gash in his head while on the job. He said he needed staples to close the wound.
After pulling out the pipe and showing it to the City Council, he tossed it toward the dias, saying City Manager Tom Modica could keep it.
Those workers will likely be at the next meeting. Maybe if they dress up, the City Council won’t keep them waiting.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS WEEK:
The city still doesn’t have set rules on how it will regulate street vendors but it’s getting closer. The City Council had to postpone a vote on the issue Tuesday night because it requested a number of changes including if the city will require vendors to be insured (it will), where flashing signs could be banned in the city and a request to ask the private company leasing The Pike Outlets to allow street vendors to sell goods on the sidewalks around the center. The handful of changes were enough to trigger a rewrite of the ordinance, but the council is expected to take up the issue again sometime in December.
PAY ATTENTION TO THIS NEXT WEEK:
You guys called for it and the city is answering. Long Beach leaders announced their plans to shore up Downtown safety and speed up the economic recovery in the area. My colleague Alicia Robinson wrote about it here. The announcement was vague, but it seems like the city is preparing to deploy more police and mental health outreach services in the area to help decrease crime and increase the perception of safety. The “Roadmap to Downtown Recovery” can be found here if you want to check it out. Have questions about it? Send them our way as I’m sure we’ll be poking around for answers as the city deploys its plan over the next few months.