So, who is negotiating the City of West Hollywood’s plans to subsidize the annual L.A. Pride Festival and Parade? Who is discussing the city’s spending and its budget and whatever issues, if any, are involved with that? Who is talking with County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office about ways for West Hollywood to collaborate with Los Angeles County in dealing with homelessness? And who is working with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority on plans for routing the Crenshaw extension through the City of West Hollywood?
It has taken WEHOville about six months to get an answer to those questions. The answer is that certain members of the City Council are doing that, and doing it in secret.
The West Hollywood City Council has eight “subcommittees” dealing with major city issues. Each subcommittee is composed of two Council members — one person short of the three Council members that would constitute a quorum. Under the State of California’s Brown Act, meetings of a quorum of elected officials have to be announced to and open to the public, with exceptions granted for certain personnel and legal and contract negotiation issues.
But meetings of standing subcommittees, those involved with ongoing issues or projects such as the ones noted above, also must be open to the public. And the City of West Hollywood must notify residents at least 72 hours in advance as to when and where those meetings will be held and what will be on the agenda. (The law provides an exception for special meetings, with the legislative body required to alert news organizations who ask for such alerts at least 24 hours in advance.
WEHOville informed City Clerk Yvonne Quarker and City Attorney Mike Jenkins of that requirement in an email message in June, citing a discussion about the matter posted by the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit organization formed to ensure that California elected officials adhere to the requirements of the Brown Act. The secrecy of legislative subcommittees has been an issue on the national, state, and local level around the country for years.
According to the FAC, state law (Cal. Gov’t Code § 54952(b)) requires that meetings of legislative bodies be held in public (with the exceptions noted above), and it specifically says that “standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter.”
So, what are the West Hollywood City Council’s subcommittees? This is the list finally provided by the City Clerk last month:
— Finance & Budget Subcommittee. Members John D’Amico and Lindsey Horvath.
— Plummer Park Project Council Sub-Committee. Members Lindsey Horvath and Lauren Meister.
— West Hollywood Park Phase II Council Sub-Committee. Members John Duran and John Heilman.
— Visit West Hollywood Council Subcommittee. Members John Duran and John Heilman,
— 1343 Laurel Avenue Council Subcommittee. Members John Duran and Lauren Meister.
— Metro Council Subcommittee. Members John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath.
— Homelessness Subcommittee. Members John Heilman and Lauren Meister.
— CSW/LA Pride Subcommittee. Members John D’Amico and John Heilman.
In an email message to WEHOville in August, Quarker said she was “still working on this with our City Attorney to determine how best to proceed with these sub-committees. They were created as ad-hoc committees, which do not require noticing and are not open to the public. I am getting information on each subcommittee’s activity, if any, so that we may determine whether any of them fall into the category of a standing sub-committee which would require noticing /open to the public, etc.”
With this editorial, WEHOville would like to save the City Clerk and the City Attorney some time by stating that at least four of the existing eight subcommittees “have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction,” which qualifies them as standing subcommittees whose meetings must be open to the public. The matters they deal with are important enough to let the citizens of West Hollywood know what’s going on.
Those are the CSW/ LA Pride Subcommittee (it’s an annual event and has been for decades), the Finance & Budget Subcommittee (the city puts together a new budget every year), the Homelessness Sub-Committee (this is clearly, and sadly, an ongoing issue), the Visit West Hollywood Subcommittee (the city’s Travel + Tourism Board) is a major institution that promotes the city’s largest single source of General Fund revenue).
One could argue that the1343 Laurel Avenue (Tara) Subcommittee isn’t focused on a “continuing subject matter,” although it has taken the city years to figure out what to do with that building. (We would at least like to hear a report from that subcommittee on what is has done and will do). The same argument could be made regarding the West Hollywood Park Phase II Subcommittee (the project has been moving forward steadily, with a prospective completion date). The Metro Council Subcommittee, if it is focused as one assumes on the routing of the Crenshaw Extension and how the city will pay for it, also should be folding once the Metro Board makes its decision on all of that. And the Plummer Park Project Council Subcommittee? Well, that project is back on the city’s agenda, which suggests that a decision (with public involvement) is coming.
So now the City of West Hollywood, if it wants to be the transparent government organization it is supposed to be, needs to start notifying the public (which WEHOville is happy to help with) about the meetings of those other subcommittees, each of which is focused on matters that have a significant impact on the city and its citizens.