Los Angeles Mayor Garrcetti’s recent executive order barring developers from talking with planning commissioners, except in public hearings, is the latest assault on smart government in California, where the process has become as important as the outcome. Maybe more important. Garcetti’s gesture of course was dressed up in the holy name of “transparency.”
Recently a highly prominent LA developer received the city’s go-ahead for a controversial high-rise condo project… this coming after he spread around hundreds of thousands of dollars to causes near and dear to the mayor. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.
The mayor remains free under his new regime to speak privately with developers. City council members, too. It’s only planning commissioners who cannot — as their job, according to the mayor, is “quasi-judicial.”
Nonsense. The job of planning commissioners is legislative in nature. They exercise powers delegated by city councils per state law. Planning commission decisions are appealable to city councils, not the courts.
It’s a popular and I think misguided notion that private conversations between private and public interests must be somehow sordid. In no other realm, except the courts, would we consider barring private conversations.
I can’t find my cigar and closed door, but they must be around here somewhere. Because I believe private conversations can be good, especially insofar as they allow not only for illegal, or extra-legal, deal-making, but also for candid and more nuanced discussions not suited for a public hearing. But I guess my thoughts are heresy here in the Golden State, where over the years a genuinely good idea has been applied in an increasingly irrational fashion that’s not remotely in the public interest.
California has what’s known as the Brown Act. At the heart of the Brown Act is a rock-solid proposition worth fighting for, one that remains just as relevant and critical today as it’s ever been: that decisions made by public bodies should be made only after a noticed public hearing in which the public has the opportunity to be heard, and where everyone can witness elected representatives debating and voting on the issues at hand. The Brown Act allows for so-called “closed sessions” only to discuss things like personnel, pending litigation and a handful of other matters. All that’s good in my book.
But the Brown Act has been applied to effectively prohibit leadership in consensus building. A city council member cannot legally speak with a majority of colleagues concerning substantive issues, except in noticed public meetings. How absurd. So long as public meetings are noticed, where the public is heard, and no decisions are made except in such public hearings, why is it so bad for a politician to try and cultivate a political consensus?
The process for getting things done in California is cumbersome. That’s fine by me if it’s a righteous examination of how something may affect natural resources or equity or what-have-you. But the process is cumbersome enough without telling politicians they can’t be politicians; they can’t legally press their colleagues in private to support good ideas; that their job is actually “quasi-judicial.” This sort of thinking leads directly to political dysfunction. It’s one reason why the caliber of people drawn to politics is increasingly reflective of those who make a fetish of process, gesture…and their own ambition.
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Stop, Go, Murder