I have attended many City Council meetings and addressed the Council on many issues over the past two decades. But the meeting on Tuesday, May 8, was unlike the others in several ways. To sum it up: there was an appalling lack of leadership on display among our elected officials.
At prior meetings, each speaker was required to identify themselves by name, and state their city of residence. In those meetings, disruptive behavior was cut short. And Sheriff’s deputies removed anyone caught breaking the rules more than once. Speakers might have opposite opinions, but for the most part we could communicate with one another before or after making our public comments, largely because we all live here and we know one another.
And placards were not allowed on display. They were taken away from anyone holding them who refused to comply.
On May 8 those standards went out the window. Mayor Laurene Weste didn’t require that speakers identify themselves or their residency. This was particularly maddening because non-residents—who travel from city to city to speak against SB 54—took up front row seats, while many residents stood for hours in the back of the room or had to move into the overflow room for remote viewing. Some in the front rows policed their section, refusing to allow those on the other side to take an open seat.
The Mayor allowed continued outbursts without having the offenders removed from the chamber. Verbal abuse flowed on the floor and at the podium.
Those who spoke in support of SB 54 stored their placards at the back of the room as directed. But some of those who opposed the legislation kept their signs and held them up throughout the meeting.
No doubt it was a challenge for the Mayor to manage such a raucous meeting. She did manage to prevent physical violence from erupting. But she permitted the most ill-behaved attendees to create a hostile environment. This displays a galling lack of leadership. (There were several deputies who could have escorted the offenders out, if even for a few minutes to cool off and collect themselves.)
At one point, a woman in a red cap removed herself from the most vocal anti-SB 54 speakers and seated herself in the back rows. She said “I don’t want to be associated with those people.”
How regrettable that such a polarizing issue was handled the way it was. It didn’t have to be that way.
Mayor Weste said this was the result of pent-up frustration with a broken federal immigration system. If so, then why did the Council bring it forward in a way that was bound to create a rift in the community they represent? The motion they approved has no practical effect. The matter could have been better addressed by sponsoring a panel discussion, featuring experts on the Constitution and immigration law, along with a representative from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. We all could have walked away better informed about the federal immigration system and the pros and cons of this state legislation.
Council Member Bill Miranda was the first to speak once public comment closed. “No matter what we do on the Council,” he said, “we try and represent as many of you citizens as we possibly can. And so in doing that we will always, on any particular issue, not represent someone in this room, someone in this city…. You have one side that is polarized on one side, the other side is polarized on the other side.”
It is rare to see so many words used to express so few thoughts. It’s true that not everyone will be happy with every Council decision. But it is Councilman Miranda’s responsibility—indeed, every council member’s responsibility—to do his research, to scrutinize an issue from all angles with an open mind, to consider options, and to build consensus. And then to express his decision with adequate reasoning. Those are the steps leaders take.
Councilwoman Marsha McLean remained silent throughout the entire procedure other than to vote “yes.”
The councilmembers had their minds made up before the meeting began (as everyone else in the room did). They had no intention of considering the views of their citizens, of hearing their voices. This is not leadership.
Now our city is fractured and what do we have to show for it? Our City Council has “sent a message” to Sacramento. But they have also created a political wedge issue for the coming elections. They have harmed the city’s reputation (how will this affect the local real estate market?). They redirected city resources away from fighting the opioid crisis, homelessness, and traffic and safety, to fight a political battle. Worst of all they’ve sent a message to residents: “We don’t represent you. Deal with it.”
Diane Trautman is a member of Advocates of the SCV.