|(March 12, 2017, 10:30 a.m.) -- It's not on the City Council's upcoming meeting agenda. Again.
For weeks-lasting-into-months, a number of concerned Long Beach residents have met, emailed and Facebooked to urge the City of Long Beach to stop spraying a type of weed killer in city parks that some other cities no longer use, the LB Unified School District doesn't use but the state of California allows while agency bureaucrats consider whether to add a "Prop 65" warning to the product opposed by the manufacturer who says the product is safe.
Two decades ago, if LB residents wanted their policysetting City Councilmembers to do so something, they had the right under LB's Council-enacted Municipal Code to put items on the Council's agenda. LB residents lost that civic right under a previous Mayor and Council through a crudely executed maneuver, explained in our Amnesia File section below. For over twenty years, and despite familiar cliches about seeking "civic engagement," no subsequent Long Beach Mayor or Councilmember has moved to restore the public's right to agendize items, which the Council could do with its own agendized item on any Tuesday.
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By mid-1996, Mayor Beverly O'Neill (elected two years earlier) had a bellyful of pesky residents who objected to things that the Mayor, city management and some Councilmembers wanted. Petitions and a lawsuit flew over a proposed pay-for-play Sports Complex that would consume part of El Dorado Park. Faxes flew (in the pre-internet era) over a Port-desired plan to bulldoze the LB Naval Station (which included ample high rise housing, a gymnasium and swimming pool) for what video-journalist Huell Howser later derided as a "container yard" (today Port Pier T with a row of red cranes formerly operated by bankrupt Hanjin.) (In late August, Mayor O'Neill didn't mention either controversy but at a meeting of CA delegates to the Democrats' National Convention, she thanked President Clinton's administration for COPS grants, HUD and EDA assistance and stated: "We will no more have the good old days, we will have better new days. And don't listen to the CAVE people, those are Citizens Against Virtually Everything" (for which she received applause.)
In that City Hall atmosphere, an item appeared on June 11, 1996 City Council agenda listed as changing the order of business at the Council meetings. At that time, the Council's order of business included "communications from the public" -- items put on the agenda by members of the public if they followed a specific procedure (below.)
It was a rarely used but powerful public tool. Instead of simply receiving three minutes to speak on non-agendized subjects (as now) on which the Council can't legally act (and the Mayor can simply say "Thank you, next speaker"), an item agendized by the public allows the speaker present his/her item, on which other members of the public can speak pro and con, and (very important) ultimately requires some type of Council voted action. That action could range from a motion and vote to approve what the public agendizer proposed or a "receive and file" motion to take no action, but one way or another, Councilmembers had to cast a recorded vote.
Below is the LB Municipal Code showing the Council's order of business as it appeared before the June 1996 agenda item (with the "communications from the public" section circled in red by us:)
The June 11, 1996 agenda item "changed the order of business" by quietly removing that LB civic right. Below is the amended Council "order of business":
The vote was 9-0: Yes: Oropeza, Lowenthal (Alan), Drummond, Clark, Robbins, Topsy-Elvord, Donelon, Kellogg, Shultz. Two days later on June 13, 1996, Mayor O'Neill signed the amended ordinance.
And poof: the public's ability to agendize Council items disappeared.
A ghostly remnant of the public's previous right remains in LB's Municipal Code. Section 2.03.090 A includes the procedural text: "No ordinance, resolution, motion, petition, appeal, report or any other matter, thing or proceeding whatsoever, presented by any person not a member of the Council [emphasis added], shall be presented to or considered by the Council unless the subject matter thereof, signed by the person desiring to be heard in connection therewith, is presented, in writing, to the City Clerk before twelve o'clock (12:00) noon of the Thursday immediately preceding the date of the meeting at which the same is to be considered..." [emphasis added] This verbiage is now a legally headless zombie, a procedure with no item in the Council's order of business to implement it.
The Council's continuing shrug on the weed killer is actually about more. It's the result of a past action with present-day consequences that the current Council can and should correct. LB residents shouldn't have to beg, like serfs to their masters, to have their elected representatives take action on public-impacting items.
In our view, grassroots and neighborhood groups should make it a priority to inform their electeds that they want the ability to agendize Council items restored. Again: this item of Council business could be restored by a Council majority (six votes to override a possible Mayoral veto) by an ordinance amendment "on any Tuesday." A polite but firm email (or better yet a voted resolution) from the group seeking a date certain by which the elected agrees to agendize this matter for Council action would start the ball rolling.
Some incumbents may respond by saying, "If someone can't get a Councilmember to agendize an issue, it likely won't pass and it's probably not important." But that's precisely why restoring the public's right to agendize is so important. It provides a way to get Council action when incumbents don't want to act. .
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