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Council Fiddles, Tenants Burn

Times Staff Writer

Which is more important to the Los Angeles City Council -- dealing with tenants about to be evicted from their apartments or wagering on the USC-UCLA football game?

On Friday, betting crossed the goal line first when the council made the tenants wait nearly three hours before they were granted 10 minutes to air their concerns.

And after all that, the council’s discussion ended prematurely when some of its members had to leave and a quorum was lost.

During the tenants’ long wait, there were also several presentations, in which individuals received an official city proclamation and a congratulatory speech from a council member.

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The council has struggled this year with reining in its inclination to talk a lot, and how to deal with things such as proclamations that delay consideration of more serious matters.

Councilmen Greig Smith and Jack Weiss introduced a motion in mid-October that would move presentations to times when they don’t interfere with city business. But a council committee has thus far refused to take up the matter.

After an hour, the council began to deal with actual business, such as homeland security and police matters. But it reverted to a less serious mode for about 20 minutes after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appeared.

Villaraigosa and Councilman Bernard C. Parks made a bet on who would win today’s big college game.

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If UCLA wins, ex-Trojan Parks will pay for dance lessons for the mayor.

If USC wins, Bruin alum Villaraigosa promised Parks a luxury skybox for NFL games at the Coliseum in 2009, assuming the city lands a professional team.

Council members Smith and Ed Reyes also made wagers, involving who would spring for a meal.

As the friendly wrangling wound down, a football was flung across the council chambers and school fight songs blared from the sound system. Councilman Tom LaBonge, a former gridiron star at Marshall High School, made a lunging catch across the middle of the room and then avoided being tackled by a podium.

Meanwhile, the tenants sat and waited. Their item was at the very bottom of the agenda.

When it was finally their turn to speak -- at 12:48 p.m., nearly three hours after the meeting began -- Venice resident David Ewing took the podium and admonished the council for making them wait.

“A lot of people have taken time off work and interrupted their lives to speak to you,” Ewing said. “I know there have been a lot of feel-good issues this morning but this is a serious one -- this is going to affect people’s lives and the future of our community.”

The second speaker, an elderly woman, broke down in tears.

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The council then went into closed session to discuss the matter with a member of the city attorney’s office. But that conversation was cut short when they lost their quorum. Several members had to leave because the meeting ran so long.

For years, tenants in the privately owned Lincoln Place apartment complex have been fighting a developer who wants to tear down most of the old apartments and build condominiums.

The remaining tenants remain hopeful that City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo can somehow block any more evictions and they wanted to show the council how serious they are. Some of them have been camping for the last few days on the south lawn of City Hall.

“This is a humiliating joke,” tenant Yael Korin said about the council’s treatment Friday. “It’s our taxpayer money that allows them to play football during a meeting,” Korin said. She said she had taken the day off from her job at UCLA to attend.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the Venice area, blamed himself for not realizing sooner Friday that the quorum was about to be lost and trying to move the Venice discussion to an earlier spot in the open meeting.

“I’m not going to throw stones at my colleagues,” said Rosendahl. “It doesn’t help anybody and it doesn’t help with the bigger policy issue -- tenant rights versus developers who are building high-end condos. This is a people issue.”


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