City Hall is responding to an inquiry from WEHOville about whether the private meetings of the City Council’s numerous subcommittees are a violation of the Brown Act by recommending that all but two of the existing eight subcommittees be dissolved. The Brown Act is the state law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
A memo to the City Council from City Attorney Mike Jenkins, City Clerk Yvonne Quarker and City Manager Paul Arevalo proposes designating the Council’s Finance & Budget Subcommittee as a permanent subcommittee. It then would have to notify the public of its meetings so that residents can attend them. Members of that subcommittee are Mayor John D’Amico and Councilmember Lindsey Horvath. The memo proposes designating the 1343 Laurel Subcommittee, which was formed to decide on the use of the building known as Tara, as “ad hoc.” An “ad hoc” subcommittee is defined as one that “completes the assignment within a short period of time, reports back to Council, and then dissolves,” the memo says. Its activities would not be subject to the Brown Act. Council members John Duran and Lauren Meister sit on that subcommittee.
The memo also proposes dissolving the Metro Subcommittee and naming a single Council member as a “liaison” to negotiate with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority over plans for extension of the Crenshaw rail line through West Hollywood. The current Metro Subcommittee’s members are Council members John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath. A Council liaison would be a single Council member whose interactions with an outside entity would not have to be made public under the Brown Act.
The recommendation will be on the City Council’s Tuesday agenda.
In addition to the Finance & Budget, 1343 Laurel and Metro subcommittees, the City Council currently has the Plummer Park Project Council Subcommittee, the West Hollywood Park Phase II Council Subcommittee, the Visit West Hollywood Council Subcommittee, the Homelessness Subcommittee, and the CSW/Pride Subcommittee. Residents not only aren’t notified of subcommittee meetings, they also have no right to attend them, and there is no requirement that minutes of the meetings be kept.
Given that subcommittees consist of two Council members rather than the three that would constitute a majority of the Council, many local jurisdictions in the past have used them to negotiate deals “under the radar” without public scrutiny. For example, the West Hollywood City Council’s Christopher Street West/Pride Subcommittee discusses with the leadership of that nonprofit organization its plans for the annual LA Pride event and likely discusses CSW’s requests for city subsidies of the event, which are then presented to the full five-person City Council for approval. No information about its meetings are disclosed to the public.
In June 2019, WEHOville reached out to Jenkins and Quarker with a request for advance notice of the meetings of City Council subcommittees. In its email to Jenkins and Quarker, WEHOville noted an interpretation of the Brown Act’s application to City Council subcommittees that was published by the First Amendment Coalition, a non-profit focused on ensuring public access to government information.
The interpretation states that an advisory committee created by a city council that is comprised of two council members for the purpose of reviewing all issues related to a specific issue on an ongoing basis is considered a standing committee that is subject to the Brown Act. That is because it has continuing jurisdiction over particular issues, even though its makeup includes less than a quorum of the city council.
“The Finance & Budget Subcommittee, as well as at least five of the other seven (Plummer Park Project, Visit West Hollywood, Metro Council, Homelessness and CSW/Pride), appear to be standing committees with continuing jurisdiction over certain issues,” said the email from WEHOville.
The item on the City Council agenda is, effectively, the city’s response six months later. In addition to it recommending the dissolution of some subcommittees and the redesignation of the Finance & Budget and 1343 Laurel subcommittees, it recommends forming an ad hoc subcommittee to oversee the city’s relationship with the Foundation for an AIDS Memorial, which is working to construct a memorial partially financed by the city in West Hollywood Park. And it recommends that the existing Street Media Design Ad Hoc Committee be formally designated as the Council’s Gateway Signage / Wayfinding Subcommittee.
The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Parking is available for free in the five-story structure behind the Council Chambers with a ticket validated at the meeting.