Editorial: Chaos at the City Council serves no one

A line of police officers in front of desks and a dais.
LAPD officers stand guard after a homeless advocate tried to rush City Council members at City Hall.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council’s final vote to ban homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and day-care centers was always going to be a heated meeting.

A majority of council members argue the ban is essential to clear pathways for students and parents traveling to schools. Activists argue the ban is wrongheaded because it simply moves homeless people around, wasting time and resources that should be dedicated to housing them.

But the chaotic melee that unfolded in the council chambers Tuesday was a low point in the increasingly acrimonious discourse over how to address the homelessness crisis.


During public comment, a speaker climbed over the bench that separates the public from the dais to confront Council President Nury Martinez. While police were attempting to detain the speaker, another audience member tried to intervene, according to reporters’ accounts. Activists screamed at police officers and council members, and at least one audience member sprayed water from a bottle on officers before chambers were cleared.

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Shouts, boos and salty language are common, if uncomfortable, aspects of council meetings — as well as with other elected bodies and the Los Angeles Police Commission. But there is nothing OK about the disruptive behavior on display Tuesday, and police officers were right to shut down the meeting.

Worse, the chaos doesn’t help the cause. The activists raise legitimate complaints about the city’s current strategy, which seems more focused on moving tents out of sight than moving homeless people into shelter and housing. But their arguments get lost in the shouting, the vitriol and the personal attacks on council members. It becomes easier for city leaders to dismiss the criticisms and to write off activists as unhinged militant mobs. And the disruptions become an easy excuse to close down the meeting and cut off public input.

Council members certainly don’t help matters by ramping up their own rhetoric. After an earlier council meeting on the tent ban, when protesters’ shouts prompted the council to stop the meeting for an hour, Councilman Paul Koretz, who is running for city controller against Kenneth Mejia, who opposes the ban, sent a campaign email comparing the nonviolent incident to the Jan. 6 insurrection. And Martinez said that Tuesday’s meeting brought City Hall “one step closer” to Jan. 6-like behavior.

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That’s a preposterous and insulting comparison. The activists went through security to attend an open meeting and give public comment during their allotted time, and were trying to influence democracy, not dismantle it. What happened in City Hall was nothing like Jan. 6 and comparing it to that is dishonest and wrong.

Still the tactics used on Tuesday were unacceptable and cannot happen again. That conduct undermines the willingness of individuals to participate in the democratic process and the ability of elected officials to carry out the public’s business.