Los Angeles City Council meetings typically draw a feisty crowd ready to sound off about planned housing developments, lawsuit settlements and city contracts.
Tuesday’s meeting was held with new measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19: Amid the unprecedented shutdown of Los Angeles businesses and schools amid the coronavirus crisis, city officials erected a tent outside City Hall so the public could watch the meeting on a video screen and comment remotely to the city’s 15 council members.
Several speakers complained about the setup, arguing it was unfair and disenfranchising. “Keeping the public outside of a public meeting in 52-degree weather with no heaters and no bathrooms is not a pandemic response, it’s oppression!” said Sabrina Johnson, a member of the homeless advocacy group KTown for All.
Rob Quan of the Unrig L.A. coalition also complained that there were no restrooms and questioned whether the site was accessible to people with disabilities. Shortly after he spoke, a city attorney said there was a wheelchair lift by the outdoor steps.
Doug Haines, who sits on two neighborhood councils in Hollywood, arrived about a half hour before the 10 a.m. meeting began, taking a seat in one of dozens of plastic white chairs placed on the red brick forecourt.
Chairs were roughly six feet apart under the 40-by-70-foot tent. A nearby kiosk allowed members of the public to sign up to speak during the meeting, which was expected to last through the day.
Haines told The Times he’d come to give public comment about development.
He wants the City Council and mayor to suspend the approval of all discretionary projects that do not otherwise require a city hearing until all neighborhood councils are permitted to meet again and review them. He was told last week by the city that neighborhood council meetings have been suspended.
“I’m afraid we are going to get a wave of approvals without public comment,” he said.
Stella Mutrux also sat in the back of the tent, waiting to speak. A volunteer in North Hollywood, Mutrux is worried about the cancellation of events to help the homeless. She’d traveled to downtown “so the city can hear us.”
As the meeting kicked off, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez appeared on the video screen and called for public comment.
Two tourists from the Netherlands, Angelique Meulenkamp and Nico Kalk, wandered into the tent and watched the proceedings for a bit.
The pair were vacationing in the U.S. and had driven an RV around the Grand Canyon. City Hall officials told them the government building was closed, Kalk said, and that they should head to the beach instead.
“Is the beach closed?” Kalk asked a reporter.
Meanwhile, posted signs inside City Hall encouraged social distancing. But inside the City Council chamber, staff and city officials could be seen mingling in close proximity at some points.
A handful of television cameras were cordoned off behind a red rope in the back of the council chamber.
Seats normally packed with union members, lobbyists and neighborhood leaders were empty.