LA City Council resumes meeting amid continued protests
LOS ANGELES - Protesters again attempted to disrupt Tuesday's Los Angeles City Council meeting, demanding the resignations of embattled Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo for their role in the City Hall racism scandal before meetings resume, but the council persisted over chants that included: "We don't want you coming back."
A couple dozen protesters began chanting as Council President Paul Krekorian started the meeting, slapping benches and shouting. They chanted through the Pledge of Allegiance, through votes, through Krekorian's attempts to call speakers to the podium for public comment and through council members' comments on items. For two hours, the protesters never ceased to make noise. Whenever it appeared that their energy was waning, someone would start a chant, and the protest went on.
None of the people who signed up for in-person public comment approached the podium, which was crowded by protesters. Instead, some council members put on earphones to listen to those who called in to give comment, with Tuesday being the first day of a hybrid public comment system that allowed people to call in for testimony.
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"Look, this is the nature of democracy," Krekorian said at a briefing after the meeting. "Sometimes, it's messy. Sometimes, people get mad. And you have to try to strike that balance all the time, of people who want to speak out and ensuring that we maximize people's ability to actually participate and come here and see what their government is doing."
De León and Cedillo, who have not attended a meeting in two weeks, were again absent on Tuesday. Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who was dealing with a family emergency last week, was also absent. The rope separating the horseshoe -- where the council sits -- from the public was extended by a few rows, increasing the distance between protesters and council members.
As the protesters chanted, the council members sat fairly emotionless, conferring with staff and talking to colleagues. The only time Krekorian asked for the protesters to quiet down was when Councilman Curren Price was about to give his opening remarks after being elected president pro tempore.
"I find it incredibly disrespectful for them to completely ignore everything that's been going around," Jay Daniel, an independent activist who came to support the protests, told City News Service.
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Daniel added that the council members were contradicting themselves by attending the meetings after calling for de León and Cedillo to resign.
"What message are they sending when they're trying to resume with these meetings?" Daniel said, pausing briefly from slapping the bench and yelling at the council. "We're already having trust issues and then this happens."
But the council continued with the city's business. Aside from electing Price to second-in-command, the council also voted to set a date in April for a special election to fill the vacant seat in the Sixth District left by former Council President Nury Martinez's resignation.
"If we were not meeting, the people of the Sixth Council District would be disenfranchised," Krekorian said. "A quarter of million people would be without representation, and that would not change if the council did not meet."
Two weeks after the release of the leaked recording from the October 2021 conversation that included racist comments and redistricting maneuvers, de León and Cedillo have defied widespread calls for resignation that range from President Joe Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom to nearly all of their council colleagues. Martinez resigned a few days after the recording was leaked.
"We're in a position right now, because of the action of three members, that the council is really struggling to move forward to function in a normal way," Krekorian said.
On Oct. 12, the last time the council had a meeting at City Hall, protesters chanting "No resignations, no meeting" effectively forced the council to adjourn without starting the meeting. The following meeting on Oct. 14 was canceled, and then the council met virtually last week after two of its members tested positive for COVID-19.
During last week's meetings, several callers asked for a hybrid option for public comment, pointing out that many people who would like to address the council had to be at work or otherwise could not make a mid-morning trip to City Hall. These could include older adults and people experiencing homelessness.
"I understand the pain," Price said at the news briefing. "I understand the frustration people are feeling. I'm proud the president adapted some technology today to help us get through that in a way that we haven't done before."
Krekorian said he never considered having police clear the chamber, as the council did over the summer under Martinez when protesters disrupted meetings over an item concerning homeless encampments. All of the council members could hear what was happening during the meeting, according to Krekorian, though very few words were audible to the public sitting in the chamber over the chants. The meeting was audible on the live stream, and the council heard from 122 callers during an hour and 45 minutes of public comment.
The council president admitted that those attending in-person not being able to hear was "a problem" and said he would revisit the situation. The council meets next on Wednesday.
Krekorian said that if a member of the public wanted to give in-person testimony, he would "hope that the people who are trying to prevent that from happening would allow other members of the public to come down and speak."
He stressed that clearing the chamber would be a last resort. Hearing people yell profanities was "uncomfortable," but part of the democratic process, he said.
"As long as we can continue to do our business, that's where I'm going to draw a clear line," Krekorian said. "People can vent. People can yell. People can be rude. That's OK. People can't stop the business of the City Council of Los Angeles."