the la city council chamber
LA City Council Chamber. MyNewsLA.com photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles City Council held its latest meeting without interruption from protesters, as people who had gathered outside City Hall demanding that Councilmen Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo resign for their role in City Hall racism scandal were not allowed in due to what officials claimed was the chamber reaching capacity.

Workers from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power arrived at least an hour before the Friday meeting began and took up most of the rows in the chamber, keeping protesters who had interrupted meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday with chants and shouts from entering. There were several items on the agenda related to LADWP contracts.

The capacity listed on a sign outside the chamber is 234 people, but there appeared to be no more than 150 people in the chamber at certain points of the meeting. Hugh Esten, a spokesman for Council President Paul Krekorian, told City News Service that the capacity was reduced to around 100 people when the council reopened to the public in April. Esten cited recommendations by the county’s health department under COVID-19 guidelines.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, told CNS that Feuer’s office was asked by former Council President Nury Martinez’s office for advice regarding a new capacity. Wilcox said the city attorney’s office provided the advice but called it “confidential.”

Martinez has since resigned over her role in the scandal. A news release from the offices of Martinez and Mayor Eric Garcetti announcing the reopening in April does not mention changes to the chamber’s capacity.

Prior to the meeting, protesters banged on the locked doors to City Hall as police guarded the entrance, but they were not allowed in.

Esten said the LADWP workers have a “lively interest” in the items. Several speakers also addressed the council in-person on an item related to suspended Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“It’s not the only issue that’s before the council,” Esten said of the protesters being kept out.

Though it appeared there were empty seats in the chamber as the meeting went on, Esten said that once the chamber reaches capacity, people waiting outside would not be let in.

Hamid Khan, an organizer with Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, told CNS that he arrived around 9:15 a.m. for the 10 a.m. meeting, but was kept out. Khan has been among those attempting to shut down council meetings since the recording was released earlier this month. Khan said he would be back Tuesday — when the council meets next — and try to arrive earlier. City Hall opens at 8 a.m. on weekdays.

“What they did today further goes to show that what they think of people out on the street, what they think of the communities, how they completely make a mockery of people, how they completely insult and disrespect the community out there,” Khan said. “These are supposed to be open meetings, and these are the games that they’re playing.”

Instead, the couple dozen protesters blocked off Main Street to call for resignations, remaining up until around 11:30 a.m. Inside, the council held a calm meeting, taking public speakers both in-person and virtually.

On Friday, the council voted to create a new Ad Hoc Committee on City Governance Reform in response to the scandal, requested a report from the city attorney on the legality of withholding salary payments to Ridley-Thomas and held a closed session on Ridley-Thomas’ lawsuit against Controller Ron Galperin and the city.

De León and Cedillo have defied fierce and widespread calls to resign for taking part in a leaked 2021 conversation that involved racist comments and attempts to manipulate redistricting, though a notice of intent to recall de León was filed with the city clerk’s office on Thursday. Neither was present on Friday.

On Wednesday, after clearing the chamber because protesters refused Council President Paul Krekorian’s request to quiet down, the council voted 12-0 to censure de León, Cedillo and former Councilwoman Nury Martinez — the first time the council has censured its own members since at least 1911.

A couple dozen protesters had made noise through every minute of council meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, until they were given an order to disperse on Wednesday. They chanted, shouted and slapped benches in an attempt to keep the council from conducting its business. On Wednesday, they unfurled a large sign that read “This meeting is illegitimate.”

“We’ll be back!” the protesters vowed as they left the chamber Wednesday, passing by a sprawl of television cameras and reporters in the back.

“Who shut it down? We shut it down!” they continued chanting.

With neither de León nor Cedillo showing any indication they plan to resign, council members have stressed that certain city business needs to get done. The council also cannot expel its own members.

But some have questioned the council’s priorities. Henry Perez, associate director of InnerCity Struggle — an Eastside nonprofit youth and family organization that does work in de León’s district — said to City News Service that the hurt, anger and frustration throughout the city is too deep.

“I really don’t see how the City Council can proceed with business as usual until this matter is taken care of, until the resignations are completed,” Perez said. “It’s a very untenable situation.”

At a news briefing after he cleared the chamber Wednesday, Krekorian claimed he has demonstrated “far more patience than should reasonably be expected in management of our council meetings,” prefacing that he didn’t have much patience with the protesters in the first place.

“On the other hand, I recognize these are extraordinary times,” said Krekorian, who this week instituted a hybrid system for public comment to allow speakers to testify remotely to the council.

Council members, unable to hear over the protesters’ shouting, had to wear earphones during Tuesday and Wednesday’s meetings. The only reasonable way for people to listen to council meetings this week prior to Friday was to watch a live stream. Only one speaker gave public comment in-person on Tuesday and Wednesday, with protesters crowding around the podium for the entirety of the meetings.

“One way or the other, whether it’s through technological means or whether it’s through other means, this council will do the work that we’ve been elected to do,” Krekorian said.

De León has conducted a series of television and radio interviews reiterating his desire to regain the trust of the community and his colleagues. Cedillo, who lost his reelection bid, will be off the council in December regardless. But his only public comments since an initial statement the day the recordings were released have come through a spokesman, who maintains that Cedillo is at “a place of reflection.”

Neither councilmen has attended a meeting in more than two weeks.

Krekorian stressed Wednesday he was not going to shut out the public from the council chamber, and that he would assess how to handle potential protesters on a meeting-by-meeting basis.

“We will not be taken off of that path by distractions, by noise, by disturbances, by disruptions in the meeting,” Krekorian said. “One way or the other, we will continue to do our work.”

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