Today, Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti flat-out censored a public comment speaker during today's city council meeting when Garcetti was getting a little too uncomfortable with the topic.
The speaker, Zuma Dogg, who is also a candidate for mayor on the ballot in the March 3, 2009 general election in Los Angeles and frequent outspoken critic of council during the public comment portion of the meetings, was commenting on the city's REAP (Rent Escrow Account Program) and was expressing concern of an avalanche of multi-million dollar lawsuits that may be triggered due to the way City Hall is running the program.
Last Friday, Zuma Dogg spent some time speaking with Councilmember Eric Garcetti on the issue, warning him that, "as someone who cared about the city, and hoped to be the next mayor or Los Angeles, I was concerned that the city would be sued into bankruptcy over the way the are operating REAP, which Zuma Dogg feels may end up in racketeering charges against the City of Los Angeles."
Garcetti said, "I know, and we are going to be..." and described a measure the city would be taking to appear to be doing something about the problem. HOW ABOUT JUST STOPPING THE RETALITORY, VINDICTIVE, HOSTILE, CORRUPT TREATMENT (RACKETEERING) OF LANDLORDS!
No matter how you feel about landlords (maybe you have no sympathy for them), but when the city treats these property owning landlords horribly, it ends up affecting the tenants who are renting, as well. Because they are forced to pass on the pain to the renters in the building. OR, when the landlords are forced to sell the buildings (to someone on the preferred short list of developers) the renters are kicked out of the buildings, and these low-income renters cannot find affordable housing, and they are being sent into the streets.
So this is an important issue, because this hurts landlords and tenants...so that's a lot of people in a city with so many people who rent.
So back to Garcetti censoring Zuma Dogg.
So today, during public comment, Zuma Dogg was talking about the Rent Escrow absue and concern of massive lawsuit potential, and the cameras were not on Eric, but he looked very nervous.
So Zuma Dogg said, "Eric looks REEEEEEEEEEEEAL nervous, right now. He looks real nervous." And adds, "I spoke with Eric on Friday and..."
At that point, Eric starts to interupt Zuma, so Mr. Dogg immediately retorts, "That's my opinion." (As in first amendment protected speech.) You are not allowed to address council members specifically, but Garcetti was not being addressed. It was just a commentary on how he looked, and perfectly legaly compliant by any legal standard.
Now, you have to realize, this is the issue Zuma Dogg knows city council does not want being publicized. And every day, Zuma Dogg wakes up and says to himself, "What's the #1 thing that would rock Villaraigosa and council's world and that they don't want me to talk about.
So believe it or not, Zuma Dogg has moved reap up to the #1 spot on the countdown.
And Garcetti's behavoir today confirmed that. Because, after Zuma Dogg noted that he was only commenting on Garcetti's nervous look, Garcetti had to find something else. So he asks the speaker to "lower your voice."
Zuma replies in a light-hearted way by lowering the voice pitch (a deep, low voice) and continued. You could hear the laughter all around the horseshoe. So now, ZD is getting laughs at Garcetti's expense, and Eric Garcetti is WAY too competive for his own Brown Act violating, legal good. He couldn't let it go.
He had to continue to interupt, because he still didn't want me to continue, because I was about to continue with my, "I was speaking to Eric Garcetti about this on Friday" speech about REAP. And he COULD NOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.
Not for any legal reasons, but because he just had to do anything he could to prevent it from being said. Imagine if Zuma Dogg went on the record and revealed what Eric told me at the meeting, off camera. (That he said, "I know" when I explained the problem, and was aware of the problem, obviously, because he was taking (surface) measures to appear to be doing something about it.)
NOW, I KNOW THAT SOME PEOPLE MAY BE READING THIS AND SAYING TO THEMSELVES, "Yeah, I know Zuma Dogg...he can be loud sometimes, and maybe he was out of order."
I CAN ASSURE IN THIS CASE (and I hope it DOES end up being a case in court), Garcetti was desperate and reaching when he asked for ZD's voice to be lowered. It was like his "old automatic pilot" response that didn't apply here.
Continuing, after the laughs from the lower (deep) voice, Zuma continued...but again, combative Eric couldn't let that go, so he starts into some speech about the "rules of decorum as posted on the podium...blah, blah, blah...."
Again, a flustered, non-applicable interuption and complete and total violation of the Brown Act. And I am here to say it is not only the most flagrant violation in the nearly three years of Zuma Dogg at City Hall, but it's getting pretty scary what is happening to free speech under this elected body of council under Eric Garcetti.
IF ZUMA DOGG WAS SO OUT OF LINE, HOW COME THE CITY ATTORNEY REMAINED SILENT DURING ALL OF THIS.
The clock continued to tick as Eric went into his little "filibuster," so Zuma was pointing at the clock, to indicate to Eric the clock should be stopped during his little hissy fit. (Another Garcetti tactic: Interupt and clarify while the clock is ticking. A great way to steal someone's time.)
Eric's response was, "You asked me a question, and now..." ZD immediately fired back, "I didn't ask a question, I was giving my opinion..."
WELL, at that point, I guess I was addressing the councilmember directly, or whatever fake reason Eric had in mind to say, "turn off his mic."
And that was how Eric Garcetti was able to avoid having Zuma Dogg discuss the REAP racketeering concerns and pending lawsuits. But mostly, it was his way of having me mention what he told me on Friday, on the record during the meeting.
PEOPLE...I KNOW THIS ISSUE HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE ZUMA DOGG ENTERED CHAMBERS FOR THE FIRST TIME. And there are many, many important issues like Measure B and the NC/DWP notification and other issues.
BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU...NOTHING ELSE MATTERS IF THE PEOPLE OF LOS ANGELES LOSE THE RIGHT FOR FREE SPEECH TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE FRAUD, WASTE AND ABUSE THAT HAS THIS CITY IN THE POSITION IT'S IN RIGHT NOW.
SUMMARY: After nearly three years as an outspoken public comment speaker at the Los Angeles City Council meetings, Zuma Dogg feels that Eric Garcetti has finally gone too far, and crossed the line into flat-out fear-based censorship over the biggest issue Villaragiosa and Garcetti hope you don't find out about. Every now and then, this issue has to be moved to the front-burner, because what good does it do to show up for public comment, if the one of the most outspoken critics is getting shut down every time it gets a little too uncomfortable for the person in charge. The City Attorney should be the person responsible for the enforcement of these decorum matters. Not the councilmember who is affected by the comments.
AND SPEAKING OF ERIC GARCETTI, THAT REMINDED ME OF THIS ITEM THAT HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION BY MULTIPLE PEOPLE: Zuma Dogg has heard for several months, from various people, that a councilmember, while driving a city vehicle drunk, struck a kid riding a bicycle, the kid suffered broken bones, and the CM paid-off the family for silence. Raises a lot of questions. More to come.