In this file photo, the Los City Council convenes to deliberate medical marijuana legislation and open up discussion to a public comment. The public can already watch council meetings remotely, but under a new motion by Councilman Bob Blumenfield, they may also soon be able to publicly comment from home.
KPCC has embarked on a series called Project Citizen, which looks at the rights, responsibilities, traditions and privileges that come with being a citizen. Among them is getting involved in local issues. What if there was a way to influence Los Angeles City Hall from the comfort of your own home? One city councilman is now supporting a plan that would allow remote testimony at some public meetings. KPCC's Alice Walton explains.
There are three types of people who speak at Los Angeles City Council meetings — gadflies, paid lobbyists and your regular Joe Schmoe. But when the average Angeleno goes down to Spring and First, it's not a pleasant experience. There's expensive parking, metal detectors — and then the wait.
Daphne Brogdon paid a visit to City Hall last August.
"I’m the kind of political dork that would go down to City Hall," said Brogdon during an interview in her mid-city apartment. "In fact, I couldn’t wait to get down there."
Brogdon, who's involved with her neighborhood council, wanted to make her voice heard on the Department of Water and Power's proposed labor contract with its employees' union. But she found herself waiting in the council chamber – for hours.
"My brain exploded when I had been sitting there for two-and-a-half hours and [councilman] Tom LaBonge said, ‘One more question for you,’ to the head DWP guy. ‘What’s the best part of your day?’”
So, Brogdon took to Twitter to air her frustration. Ultimately, she had to leave the meeting before ever getting a chance to speak. Now, one city council member wants to change the system by allowing the public to testify remotely. Councilman Bob Blumenfield says the goal of his motion is to make City Hall more accessible and transparent.
"Someone may have something to contribute to a hearing, but it’s not worth it for them to drive [downtown]," Blumenfield said. "If we could beam them in and have them participate, it would be a benefit to them and a benefit to us to have their viewpoints heard."
The first-term councilman is proposing a pilot program that would allow remote testimony via Google Hangout during city council committee meetings. No more than nine people could remotely testify at any one meeting.
Lisa Gritzner, president of the lobbying firm Cerrell Associates, is a pro at getting City Hall to listen to her clients’ needs. And the advice she gives to clients can apply just the same to average citizens advocating on their own behalves.
"If we’re doing our job correctly, then we have had meetings and tried to make sure that [the correct] perspective is getting put out there – way before that one minute of testimony that you get in the public setting," Gritzner said.
Gritzner said that in order to make an impact, average Angelenos need to get involved in the political process before an issue comes to the council floor. She recommends calling council members, subscribing to City Hall newsletters, and staying up to date on meeting agendas. They’re tips she’s even using herself, as she pushes the DWP to deal with a solar panel issue at her home.
"So that’s a case where I’m [asking], how can we organize and bring this issue to the city council and see if this is a problem that’s happening all over the city?"
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