After hearing from many public speakers Friday demanding that the Los Angeles City Council stop holding meetings until Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo resign over their involvement in the City Hall racism scandal, several council members explained why they were continuing with the city’s business and claimed that whether they meet has no leverage over the two embattled councilmen’s decisions.
The council met Friday for the first time since de León said earlier this week that he does not plan on resigning.
“We will not shut down meetings because one person out of 4 million people chooses not to do the right thing and resign from his office,” Council President Paul Krekorian said.
Krekorian said he cannot imagine a scenario in which de León can continue to operate as a member of the council.
The council held meetings virtually this week due to COVID-19 exposure, with 10 members — the minimum for a quorum — present for most of all three meetings. Neither de León nor Cedillo have attended a council meeting since last Tuesday, when they were forced to leave the chamber as protesters shouted at them.
The October 2021 conversation between de León and fellow council members Nury Martinez and Cedillo, along with Ron Herrera, president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, included racist comments and discussions over favorable redistricting — and led to Martinez resigning her council presidency and later her council seat last week.
On Friday, the council heard from speakers who described the meeting as illegitimate, stating that the city’s business cannot continue without resignations. The council took public comment for an hour and 23 minutes, hearing from every speaker in the queue.
Molly Talcott, who lives in Cedillo’s district and teaches in de León’s district as a professor at Cal State LA, implored the council to break quorum.
“It’s up to you all to take a stand,” Talcott said. “You cannot be neutral on a moving train. And continuing to hold city council meetings shows that you continue to be complicit.”
Denise Kniter, policy manager with the Los Angeles County Business Federation, spoke for the group of more than 200 businesses.
“We have lots of pressing, important issues that we need to tackle that cannot be addressed in good faith while you are still holding office,” she said, addressing de León and Cedillo. “You’ve proven yourself completely unfit for public office.”
However, council members suggested that neither de León nor Cedillo care whether the council meets.
“We cannot let bullies continue to block the work of the council by refusing to resign,” Councilwoman Nithya Raman said. “And I don’t believe that us not meeting has any leverage on them making that decision. They have shown a clear indifference to calls from throughout this entire country.”
Councilman Mike Bonin said: “Mr. de León and Mr. Cedillo don’t give a crap what anybody thinks. That is abundantly clear. Our meeting or not has no leverage over them whatsoever.”
Bonin, whose 2-year-old Black son was the target of a racial slur in the tape, said he understands the anger and disgust of those calling for no meetings without resignations. He said he “couldn’t stomach” being in a meeting with de León or Cedillo, either virtual or in-person.
But both Bonin and Krekorian pointed to items that the council passed this week that they said are crucial to helping the people of Los Angeles.
On Friday, the council voted to approve an ordinance to prohibit misleading advertising by pregnancy services centers in Los Angeles, explore expanding the city’s Eviction Defense Program and seek reports on amending the city code to require air conditioning in all rental units in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, the council essentially extended certain renter protections due to COVID-19 by extending the local emergency declaration.
“The reforms that we need to do, we need to meet in order to do them,” Bonin said, adding that the council also needs to hold a session in order to certify a potential recall campaign against de León.
There is not enough time left in Cedillo’s term — which ends in December after his defeat to Eunessis Hernandez in the June primary — for him to be recalled.
Bonin said that both council members, who were stripped of committee assignments last week, are “effectively powerless” and have lost credibility with the council and the city.
“I refuse to give them the power to determine whether or not this council meets,” Bonin said. “I refuse to give them the power to say that we can’t do things to help the people of Los Angeles.”
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson was absent from Friday’s meeting, but said at a town hall hosted by the Los Angeles Times and FOX11 on Thursday evening that he went “back and forth” on considering whether the council should continue meeting. He decided the council couldn’t risk allowing COVID-19 protections to expire, and also pointed out the council approving several dozen affordable housing units earlier in the week.
“The city can’t afford to let those kinds of things fall by the wayside because we have these two recalcitrant and selfish members,” Harris-Dawson said.
It is unclear when the council will return to in-person meetings. Both Krekorian and Bonin have tested positive for COVID-19 since last week, though Bonin has since tested negative. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, the council’s current president pro tempore — who will be replaced by Councilman Curren Price — presided over meetings this week in front of an empty chamber while Krekorian and the other council members joined remotely.
Council members make nearly $229,000 in annual salary — or more than $8,700 every two weeks — with de León and Cedillo continuing to collect paychecks as long as they stay in office.
While the council met this week, many committee meetings were canceled — meaning items that need to clear committees before heading to the council will be delayed until next week at the soonest. On Thursday, both the council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River and Information, Technology, and General Services committees put up notices of cancellation hours before the scheduled meetings.
As of Friday afternoon, all of next week’s committee meetings were scheduled to take place, including two on Monday.
Both de León and Cedillo were also stripped of their committee assignments last week, leaving the vital Homelessness and Poverty, and Housing committees without chairs. Councilwoman Nithya Raman is vice chair for both committees, though Krekorian has the authority to appoint committee members and chairs.
A spokesman for Cedillo said Wednesday night that the councilman remains at “a place of reflection,” echoing a comment he made Monday.
O’Farrell said on Friday that the council “cannot be held hostage from doing the people’s business.”
“The longer they refuse to resign, the wounds just keep getting deeper and deeper,” O’Farrell said. “I’m hopeful that they will realize the inevitable and do the right thing and resign.”