By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Ted Soqui
Fear is a strange passion that strikes from the sky, from the wind, from the air in the room. All sensible thought goes out of the mind. You’re consumed with a vision of an atom bomb or disease as you walk across the street and get run over by a trailer truck.
—Jimmy Breslin, Newsday, October 14, 2001
The Los Angeles City Council has now finally talked its way through its panicked realization that its members are mortal. The overall process took more than a week. The discourse concluded, for the nonce, last Friday. This was when the members, unable to agree on exactly what to do from that point on, deadlocked on proposed security-measure packages that had just been rushed through committee hearings and closed session. (On Tuesday, the council tentatively passed the measure calling for the hiring of 40 additional security officers.)
Considering the council’s overall state of mind, perhaps that was just as well.
Our local government’s panic phase began not, as one might expect, immediately after the September 11 disaster, but with the onset of U.S. bombings this month. That’s when some council members finally grasped the idea (or, in the view of some, manifested the absurdity) that they might become a target. This comprehension was not, unfortunately, accompanied by the body’s deepest thinking.
In one way, of course, the immediate outcome was impressive. I mean, when was the last time you saw the city solons make a proposal one day and beheld it accomplished the next? That’s how long it took city staffers to respond to their leaders’ October 10 lambasting, which contained what I took to be some threats of firing by resident clown and Councilman Nate Holden. These were leveled against those hapless General Services employees who said it could take six weeks to get new metal detectors up and running. There was also some just plain bad attitude.
“I think security here is a joke. No one checks anything when they walk in the main entrance,” orated Councilwoman Janice Hahn. “We have barricades outside on the street, but our security inside the building is pathetic.” There had been better security at the temporary council chamber in City Hall East before the city government’s June move back into the renovated building. Indeed, for around a year or so, there was a metal-detector gate outside the temporary meeting room. But no one — least of all the council members — had previously seemed to miss this apparatus.
Hahn to the contrary, however, there had been plenty of recent security activity. But its purpose appeared to have been to protect the entire City Hall population, not just the council. The aforementioned street barricades, as it happened, had gone up right after President Bush announced the Afghan bombings. After that, no one could drive a vehicle past City Hall on Main Street without showing city ID. To get into City Hall itself, you were compelled to show a pass or sign in for one. But this was not enough for Councilwoman Hahn and her colleagues, who, for ä all I know, may have feared the hostile attentions of an intifada wing of the Valley secessionists.
More likely, this was the kind of fear that, with the far more substantial cause of an anthrax threat, has also afflicted the nation’s Capitol. Had the council wanted a sane example of upgraded local-government building security, it could have hiked uphill to the county’s Hall of Administration, where the Board of Supervisors had somehow managed to deal with enhanced protection needs in an appropriately phlegmatic and unhysterical way. County officials apparently understood that their building’s primary purpose is to serve a large public that, wisely, eschews board meetings but comes downtown to deal with taxation, real estate and other public-service functions. Just like most of those who go to City Hall. In any case, the county has stationed extra security people to check visitors at its half-dozen entrances on four different levels, but the only metal detector in service remained at the boardroom entrance.
But the City Council ordained the closing of all City Hall entrances and exits save the one on Main Street — one of the building’s least commodious. And there, just 18 hours after the big showdown in council, everyone going into City Hall — messengers pushing hand trucks stacked with boxes of paperwork, engineers carrying armloads of blueprints, lawyers with bulging briefcases — got to stand in line before the freshly planted detectors. At least 10 security people were on hand when I went through, presumably in case the entire legal profession, say, tried an end run around the gate.
So the council has momentarily proved, against all precedent, that it can act quickly and decisively. At least when it thinks its own safety is at stake. (In last Friday’s discussions, Hahn seemed a little defensive at the idea that the council had been mainly interested in covering its own ass: “People have thanked me,” she said, for the overnight security miracle.) Otherwise it behaved more typically. For instance, presented with a proposed ordinance to outlaw public urination and defecation, the council postponed the matter six months for further study. That’s definitely a study I want to read.