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Community groups alarmed after L.A. City Council cancels meetings for the rest of March

The Los Angeles City Council chamber is shown during a meeting on March 17, when the public was told to gather in a tent outside and watch the proceedings on video.
At a March 17 meeting at the Los Angeles City Council chamber, the public was told to gather in a tent outside and watch the proceedings on video.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez announced Monday that she has canceled council meetings scheduled for Tuesday and the following week, saying the city is not yet ready to conduct a remote meeting.

The move alarmed labor unions, nonprofit groups and activists who had been hoping council members would act on a rent freeze and other forms of relief for those suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those groups, which have organized under the banner “the Healthy LA Coalition,” urged Martinez to call an emergency meeting and finalize measures to protect workers, tenants and unhoused people. The coalition has been calling on council members to halt cleanups of homeless encampments that require people to move property, tighten restrictions on evictions and forgive rent payments during the crisis, among other proposals.

“Los Angeles City Council must show leadership during a crisis that will have devastating impacts on Angelenos,” said Laura Raymond from Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, which is part of Healthy LA.

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Tuesday’s meeting had been planned, in part, as a teleconference during which members of the public could call in with comments. Some council members would have attended in person, Martinez said.

All items on Tuesday’s agenda will be taken up at a future meeting. If necessary, the council will hold an emergency meeting once all the “safety and logistical concerns have been met,” Martinez said.

“The status is fluid,” she said in a statement. “But please know, the Los Angeles City Council will meet to do the people’s business as soon as possible.”

Last week, council members put forward a long list of proposals to address the needs of Angelenos during the coronavirus pandemic, including boosting sick leave and restricting evictions. But those measures still must be drafted and passed as laws.

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Council members also announced over the weekend that they would pursue new emergency proposals, including a rent freeze. They were expected to take up some proposals that have already been drafted, including rules regulating employee layoffs.

Councilman Mike Bonin called the cancellations “incredibly frustrating,” saying his colleagues can’t take action on eviction measures and other protections if they don’t meet. “I’ll go in with a mask or gown or whatever we need, or I’m perfectly willing to do it remotely,” he said.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., said he wasn’t troubled by the situation. His group has been raising concerns about a proposal to require employers to lay off workers, or bring them back, in order of seniority. Such decisions should be left up to businesses, he said.

Waldman argued that Mayor Eric Garcetti could easily enact any needed changes through executive orders. “The council is looking to push things — Garcetti and his staff are already enacting them,” he said.

Rob Quan, an organizer with the anti-corruption group Unrig LA, said the council nonetheless has an important role to play, including acting as a check on the mayor. “The idea that the City Council is not an essential service in this whole response is kind of ridiculous,” he said.

In their attempt to limit health risks, council members had already cut the number of weekly meetings from three to one and canceled committee meetings altogether.

Still, some city meetings are moving ahead. The board that oversees the Department of Water and Power is set to convene on Tuesday, meeting remotely and taking public comment by phone.

The Board of Public Works, which oversees repairs of roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure, also had been scheduled to meet Tuesday. But that session was canceled Monday after staffers tested the system for allowing remote public comment, said agency spokeswoman Elena Stern.

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“We still have some stuff to work through,” she said.

Times staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.


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