Judge rules Los Angeles City Council violated open meeting law on shopping center vote

A Superior Court judge found that the Los Angeles City Council violated the Brown Act, California’s open government law, by not giving the public sufficient notice of a meeting during which they approved a shopping center development in South Los Angeles. -DB

The Los Angeles Times
January 12, 2010
By David Zahniser

A Superior Court judge tentatively ruled Monday that the Los Angeles City Council violated the state’s open meeting law by approving a 76,000-square-foot shopping center in South Los Angeles without giving the public sufficient advance notice.

The ruling will probably force the council to conduct a new vote on the project, which called for a supermarket and pharmacy at Slauson and Central avenues but drew strong opposition from the South Central Farmers Action Fund, a community group.

Judge James C. Chalfant said he would probably invalidate the Aug. 15, 2008, vote, which occurred during one of the council’s “special” meetings — the kind that can be called with just 24 hours’ notice. South Central Farmers, among others, said it did not receive notification in time to arrange testimony on its behalf.

“We couldn’t mobilize to present our concerns about the project” the last time, said Tezozomoc, a representative of the farmers group.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, a proponent of the project, said she would favor a revote if one is required by the court.

Tezozomoc, who has criticized the city’s use of taxpayer dollars to develop the project, said he hoped to get at least 15 people to City Hall to weigh in if a new vote is held.

The lawsuit took particular aim at the council’s reliance on so-called special meetings, which are typically added to the council’s calendar one day before a meeting.

Under the state’s open meeting law, regular meetings require at least 72 hours’ notice.

Robert P. Silverstein, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, had argued that the council cannot “cheat the public” out of the 72-hour notice period.

He also said the council had conducted special meetings on nearly half of the days that it met in 2007 and 2008.

Chalfant said the city had a right to hold special meetings. But he also concluded that the council violated state law by convening its special session in the middle of its regular Aug. 15 meeting.

Chalfant found that the city had prepared an inaccurate journal of its proceedings, using “an imaginary adjournment vote” to describe the end of its special meeting.

He also said an agenda item dealing with the shopping center project was too vague and should have provided more information.

Copyright 2010 The Los Angeles Times