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City Hall

Fast Times at L.A. City Hall: Pot-Shop Ban Pushed Forward After Shady Closed Session

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Thu, May 17, 2012 at 7:30 AM
click to enlarge Councilman Huizar is running this show. - MAYOR SAM
  • Mayor Sam
  • Councilman Huizar is running this show.

What happened behind closed doors at yesterday's L.A. City Council meeting?

Given the whole closed-door thing, it's hard to say. What we do know is that before L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson formed a secret huddle that lasted for over half an hour, a soft/sane proposal for pot-shop regulation by Councilman Paul Koretz still had a shot at making its way into ordinance.

But by the time the closed session let out...

... the frontrunner was Councilman Jose Huizar's alternative proposal, an all-out ban that would shut down every single marijuana dispensary in the city.

(Which Huizar and the City Attorney's Office actually call a "gentle ban," because individuals with licenses would still be able to grow or distribute medical weed. Just not with a storefront.)

The council decided to send Koretz's proposal back through two different City Council committees: the Planning and Land Use Management Committee and the Public Safety Committee. Huizar's proposal, on the other hand, has already made it into the ordinance phase, and only has to get a final OK from the Planning Committee before coming to a final vote before council.

And city attorney staffers -- who are very nervous in general about passing a pot-shop ordinance while a series of conflicting, in-progress court cases still haven't yielded a definitive ruling on the issue -- have expressed much more confidence in Huizar's "gentle ban." As the LA Weekly's own Dennis Romero once put it, "Trutanich never met a pot shop he liked."

So the winner is clear.

Your average stoner would have come away 100 percent befuddled by today's meeting, which featured dozens of heartfelt public commenters begging for the Koretz proposal to go through, yet at its core was a raging battle of the egos between L.A. politicians.

During public comment, Don Lewis, a wheelchair-bound man with MS, said that if the Huizar ordinance goes into effect, "I'm going to be forced into, I don't know, MacArthur Park. If I have to take Percocet, do I get that from MacArthur Park?"

Other tear-jerkers included Rosie Solis, who remembered her dying father "telling me at his last moments that he didn't want to be under heavy medication because he wanted to be able to talk to us, his six children," and dispensary employee Aaron Justice, who said Huizar's ordinance would "push patients back into the underground and turn regular Americans back into criminals."

Council President Wesson had originally wanted to wait until Friday to continue talking about the plan. But Koretz spoke up for the public commenters -- ultimately shooting himself in the foot.

"Could they not be heard today, as they're all here patiently waiting for the entire meeting?" pleaded Koretz. So Wesson agreed to let them speak, then postponed the rest of the discussion until Friday.

That thoroughly pissed off Councilman Huizar, who argued that the council should finish what they started right then and there. (He knew Koretz's plan would lose if voted on in this infantile state.)

"I'm not here Friday, and I'm the maker of the other motion that's been patiently waiting to be heard," said Huizar, taking an apish stance over the table.

So Wesson called a recess, during which City Hall gadfly John Walsh says (via angry email) that councilmembers "surrounded Wesson who was seated in the Council President's Chair and spoke to one another animatedly in violation of the California state open-meetings law."

Indeed, in the city's own video of the meeting, the camera zooms out and all we see is ant people whisper-yelling at each other with intolerable Latin elevator music drowning out their words. Then they shut off the video feed and kick out the public for an extended closed session.

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Was this, as Walsh claims, a violation of the Brown Act?

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, tells us that "although the Brown Act doesn't cover this specifically, everybody understands and assumes that members of City Council can confer outside public view just long enough to decide when to put something on the agenda."

But they're only allowed to talk "long enough to decide what's on the agenda, not what to do with what's on the agenda."

Given that Koretz's softer proposal was handed a death sentence by being sent back through the molasses committee system after 30-plus minutes behind the curtain, it does appear that their conversation may have been content-related.

Scheer says that if the closed-door discussion turned to, "Let's take the one we're likely to adopt" or "Which of these do people favor?" or "I like plan A! I like plan B!" -- that would be a violation of the Brown Act.

However, the city did also write in its meeting agenda that it...

"... may recess to Closed Session, pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.9(a), to confer or discuss with, or receive advice from, its legal counsel regarding pending litigation in ... more than 50 separate lawsuits and cross-complaints filed against the City by medical marijuana dispensaries, owners, operators, and patients. The lawsuits challenge the City's medical marijuana ordinance on a wide variety of legal grounds and seek to enjoin enforcement of the City's ordinance."

Problem is, there's really no way to know for sure what they did back there.

City Hall gadfly Walsh, ever the thespian, calls it a "City Council gang bang with the Brown Act as rape victim!"

Rabbi Jonathan Kline begged during public comment: "There is nothing gentle about a so-called gentle ban. ... I urge you to go to your heart. Clean up the city, I understand, but do not throw the infirm under the bus." But with the city attorney and Councilman Huizar at the reins, compromise is not an option.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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