In a sign of bad faith, the Coastal Commission at its hearing on Thursday, June 13th, refused to allow several pro-OPD speakers to make their remarks, ignored steadfast support for OPDs from its own staff, and added late requirements, which were impossible for City representatives to meet during the hearing. This included a late demand for an up-dated parking availability study.
If the Commission had been operating in good faith, the Commission would have requested the study before it agreed to the settlement. In the end, the Commission gave into representatives of social service agencies, the Peace and Freedom party, Occupy Venice and homeless advocates.
The prospects for OPD were hampered going into the hearing by several developments.
The first was that the City of Los Angeles, including City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, more or less abandoned defense of its own permit application. Some of this was just unlucky circumstances, some of this was bad faith by city officials, including Rosendahl.
Over the last three years the City lost two knowledgeable Transportation Department officials, Alan Willis and Yadi Hashemi, to early retirement. Their replacement was at a lower experience level and was not able to forcefully present the permit application to the Commission.
Next, there was a pissing match between Bill Rosendahl and City Attorney Trutanich over who was going to present the City application to the Commission. Bill expected the City Attorney's Office to take the lead, since it was a settlement of the City's (and VSA's) lawsuit against the Commission, while Trutanich, miffed that Rosendahl had supported Mike Feuer in the City Attorney's race, refused. So, Bill deputized his staff attorney, Norm Kulla, to make the presentation. We offered to brief Kulla, but he said he knew everything he needed to know. However, in front of the Commission, he asked for little time to make the City's presentation, told the Commission that Bill supported OPD on the grounds of equity, and then pitched the presentation to our attorney John Henning, underscoring the City's lukewarm support for OPD. John Henning did his best, but because Norm asked for so little time, neither John nor I could finish our presentations.
The fact is that Bill R. took a dive, too. While maintaining that he strongly supported OPD, he made no effort to either change his medical appointments on the hearing date so he could attend in person or to ask the Commission staff to move the hearing back one day so he could attend.
Trutanich sent an attorney to the hearing, Jerry Sato, but not the right attorney. He sent the litigator in his office who would prosecute the case against the Commission instead of the attorney who has worked on the issue for the last four years, Valerie Flores. And he did not allow Sato make any remarks in support of the settlement or to answer questions.
In short, the City completely abandoned the residents who have shown majority support for OPD since the 59% vote at the library in 2009.
One also has to acknowledge that OPD opponents did their best organizing effort ever and generally avoided the shrill and venomous presentation of previous years. And our side, well, too many of our adherents were no shows. Too many OPD supporters gave a priority to work and child care commitments and failed to attend.
There were only 80 anti-OPD speakers, but in contrast, our side only fielded about 10 speakers in support. Our presence was also unfairly limited by an unpublished Commission rule that once the hearing starts no more speaker cards are accepted. We had been informed that it was unlikely that the OPD item would be heard before 10:30, but the hearing got started about 9:30, so some of our key supporters, including Harris Levey, president of the Presidents Row Neighborhood Association, and Reta Moser, a well known activist and publisher of the Triangle Update, were not allowed to speak. There were several others in this category, including Marie Hammond of the Rose Avenue Working Group.
I could go into the specious nature of the concerns that appeared to drive Commissioners "no" vote, but more important to this analysis is that the Commission's procedures do not allow anyone other than the City’s representatives to answer any concerns or questions posed by commissioners after the public comment period is closed. So, while I or John Henning could have answered their concerns, we were precluded from answering and the City reps either didn't care or were not prepared to answer (again, City staff simply stood silent).
Of course, if the commission was comprised of professional men and women of integrity they would have read the settlement terms in advance of agreeing to it and raised their questions in a timely manner before they even agreed to the settlement. Springing a request for a new study of early morning parking availability at the end of the hearing was, of course, unfair to the residents and the City. But this has been the Commission's behavior all along, to keep setting the hurdle higher after the City has already met the Commission staff's expectations for adequate parking mitigation for early morning beach access and a settlement has been reached. It's called "re-negotiating a done deal," and reflects a lack of professionalism and integrity, but the Commission is largely composed of small town council members who are not really “ready for prime time." Usually they recognize this and support recommendations of staff, but in this case they allowed themselves to be influenced by "the mob" and ignored the well-substantiated recommendations from their own staff.
So, where to now? Clearly, there is no reason to discuss settlement with the Commission again. It has shown itself to be an untrustworthy negotiating partner. The only avenue is to litigate the underlying lawsuit. This is dependent on funding. If enough Venice residents are outraged at being treated by the Commission as second class citizens, undeserving of the same rights to control their streets at night that the Commission allows most other coastal cities, and provide the donations, then the VSA will litigate this matter.
I'd like to thank everyone who contributed dollars, letters, emails, postcards, etc., to our effort.