• OPINION

      A Hispamic man looking at camera and wearing a suit

      Alhambra Councilman David Mejia (Photo – davidmejia2016alhambra)

      You probably missed it, and maybe that was Councilman David Mejia‘s plan.

      By Sean McMorris

      The Alhambra City Council had just finished a marathon hearing for its new draft general plan, a process that has taken nearly five years and has been fraught with setbacks and mismanagement. Everyone was tired and most members of the public went home after the hearing.

      So, you would be forgiven if you were not in attendance when a seemingly innocuous item way down at the end of the August 12, 2019, city council agenda (Item 25) came before the city council at around 10:30 PM. The item was a first reading of an ordinance to revamp language in the City’s Municipal Code (MC) that would, according to its heading, move the start of city council meetings from 5:30 pm to 6:00 pm and replace Robert’s Rules of Order with Rosenberg’s Rules of Order at city meetings.

      Most people were not particularly concerned that City Hall was about to pull a fast one on its residents.  I say most because there were a few folks, including myself, who stayed and asked for clarification about the item (see video at 3:40 Min. mark). We were assured by Alhambra City Attorney, Joseph Montes, that the proposed revisions to Alhambra’s MC were meant to support the public’s right to speak broadly under state and federal law, not rein them in. Indeed, some of the language to be removed from the MC as a result of the ordinance is clearly illegal, such as the arrest, prosecution, and barring of public speakers who are engaging “boisterously,” or “making personal, impertinent, or slanderous attacks.” (see Alhambra Municipal Code, Chapter 2.04). The removal of such language is a good thing.

      However, immediately after City Attorney Montes finished reassuring the public about the pure nature and intent of the ordinance, Councilman Mejia said the following, which was then quickly added as an amendment to the ordinance with no discussion and voted on (see video at 4:00 Min. mark):

      I was reading procedures for addressing council. It says here that once the card is completed it shall be returned to the city clerk prior to the completion of the agenda. Maybe—I know other cities have done it, the school board does it—once the agenda starts maybe we shouldn’t take cards at that point, and they can wait for public comment because what I’ve seen over the three years, sometimes, you know, people want to up each other—not the council, because people want to yell at us that’s okay—but I’ve noticed the one-upping each other. Someone doesn’t like a citizen’s comments, another comes up and people start flipping cards. Maybe if we can stop that, that might work. Another thing, I’ve been to different city council meetings and other organizations and one of the things I have seen is that some organizations—we go five—go down as low as one minute for the MTA, one minute for the City of L.A. The school district’s what, two minutes? Three minutes. I’m thinking maybe we should—the school district has it—we go to three minutes with the option to give extra time, that’s fine we can do that. You know, so, it’s one of the things I’m looking to do, but I’m just one person.

      Councilman Mejia wants to prevent members of the public from turning in a speaker card before public comment on the item is over? He wants them instead to speak about the item during oral communications at the end of the meeting when the item has already been discussed and voted on? And why? Because in Councilman Mejia’s mind, too much public debate is bad, or as Councilman Mejia falsely calls it, too many people trying to one-up each other?

      And Councilman Mejia wants to cut public speaking time nearly in half from 5 to 3 minutes because some other cities and organizations only allow members of the public to speak for 1 minute?

      And didn’t the city attorney just get done conveying to the public that nothing in the ordinance was meant to limit speech or public participation at city meetings?

      What happened with Agenda Item 25 was a total ruse, and not a very good one at that. It was swift, under the radar, and passed under false pretenses.  In other words, it was presented as an ordinance for the people, when in reality, the opposite is true.

      Nonetheless, Councilman Mejia is now one city council meeting away from succeeding at curtailing public participation at City Hall. At its first reading, 4 of 5 Councilmembers voted to approve Mejia’s Amendments with only Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler voting “No.” The second reading of the ordinance with Mejia’s Amendments will go before the city council on Sept. 9 at the regularly scheduled city council meeting.

      decorative

      A screengrab from Alhambra City Council meeting.

      The Mejia amendments are a bad idea and unnecessary

      The Mejia Amendments are a solution in search of a problem. They are also bad for democracy in Alhambra.

      The rationale given by Councilman Mejia for the proposed amendments is shallow and patronizing.

      Alhambra should not lower the public speaking bar because other cities have chosen to do so. Los Angeles has taken great flack for its 1 minute public speaking time at city meetings. It is also incompatible to compare Alhambra to Los Angeles or the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) when debating public speaking time in Alhambra, as Councilman Mejia did. Los Angeles is a city of 4 million residents compared to Alhambra’s 85,000, and the MTA is not a city but a county-wide legislative body. This kind of cherry-picking ignores other cities that have 5-minute public speaking times such as the cities of Downey and Glendale.

      It should also not be lost on anyone that such comparisons coming from Councilman Mejia’s mouth are tired and hypocritical given his predilection to invoke the “Alhambra is not other cities” line when it suits his narrative.

      Finally, Councilman Mejia’s one-upmanship rationale for limiting when speaker cards can be submitted is at best personal and petty and at worst an attempt to silence critics and limit civic engagement. It’s also unfounded.

      Mejia’s amendments likely do not come as a surprise to Alhambra City Hall watchers, even if they are a bridge too far. More concerning is the fact that three other Councilmembers voted to endorse Mejia’s amendments. They gave little rationale for their support. Perhaps they will elaborate on their vote or reverse course at the second, and final, reading of the ordinance on Sept. 9, 2019.

      Read Part 2.

       


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      Comments

      1. Scotty Watty says:

        i thought he worked for the people…and yet he wants to limit their speech?

      2. Gloria Valladolid says:

        The people of Alhambra are fortunate to have someone like McMorris informing the public of the oligarchy’s evil deeds. It is only through clear information for all that a democracy can exist. Mayor Andrade-Stadler by voting against the restrictive amendment that would undermine the public’s right to speak, clearly, is a defender of democracy,

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