Money, or Who Gets Heard at City Hall

At last Wednesday’s city council meeting on convention center billboards, people who came down to city hall to speak against the deal were told by council president Eric Garcetti that there would be no public comment, because a public hearing had already been conducted at a committee meeting the previous week.  Even though nothing had been done to publicize the issue, and most people only learned of it only AFTER the committee meeting.

Bill Rosendahl, the sole council member voting against the billboard deal, objected to shutting off public comment, and asked that speakers be given two minutes after Garcetti proposed to give them one.  So opponents had two minutes at the microphone to explain why the billboards would be a drastic intrusion into the visual landscape of the city, would raise serious questions about traffic safety, and would severely undermine the city’s ability to control billboard proliferation throughout the city.

No member of the public spoke on behalf of AEG, the company given an exclusive 30-year contract to put up the 50,000 square feet of advertising signage.  That’s hardly surprising, considering that this firm that owns Staples Center and the L.A. Live complex paid $469,000 to firms lobbying the city on its behalf in 2007 and the first six months of this year, according to city ethics commission reports.  That period almost perfectly coincides with the 18 months that the city’s legislative analyst, Gerry Miller, said the billboard deal has been in negotiations.

Members of the public who take time off work and otherwise arrange their schedules to travel to city hall in the middle of the day get two minutes to make their case.   Which brings up the question: how much time does $469,000 buy?

Dennis Hathaway

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