Tuesday’s Philibuster Foreshadows Future Council Gridlock


In advance of Tuesday’s meeting of the Santa Monica City Council, Councilmember Phil Brock placed two items on the agenda. By the end of the meeting the Council not only failed to consider either of these two items, but also ten other items he did not place on the Agenda.

The first, 16C, a request to have the city oppose SB 423, a bill to make local governments more accountable to allowing for regional housing needs. This bill passed the day before the council meeting (Santa Monica’s Senator Ben Allen abstained). Sensing the pointlessness, Councilmember Brock pulled the item at the beginning of the meeting, not before.

The second item, 16D, would amend the City’s noise ordinances to prohibit early morning noise before 8 a.m. It is no secret that this motion was designed to restrict the protest activities of UNITE HERE Local 11, which has been picketing hotels in Santa Monica and LA in a fight to win concessions in a new contract. Phil stated it himself in an interview with The Lookout the day before.

So, it should come as no surprise that union members would show up to oppose this effort to restrict their right to protest. Roughly 45 people signed up for public comment, and it was evident from the sea of red shirts in the chamber with “Huelga Sí” (Strike Yes) that the majority were from the union.

Photo from Council Chambers on September 12, 2023. Credit: Juan Matute.

After seeing how many people had signed up to speak, and that they had stayed late into the evening after an extended closed session ended at 9:30, Councilmember Brock seemed to suddenly regret stoking the Union. So he backpedaled.  He told the Mayor he would amend the item in an attempt to dissuade many of those gathered from speaking in opposition to his ordinance.  

But Brock’s commentary didn’t help his cause. Rather than a clean pull, where he simply severed the part of the motion (one of four) the union gathered to oppose, Councilmember Brock kept talking. In introducing caveats such as the need to balance free speech with the resident’s right to rest, Phil said he would pull the item “for now.”  This did not placate members of UNITE HERE Local 11, and likely exacerbated Brock’s cause.  

Furthermore, while Councilmember Brock was backpedaling, he also had to address the confusion he caused with Mayor Pro Tempore Negrete, the co-maker of the motion with whom he evidently failed to discuss the backpedaling strategy prior to the action.

After the sloppy pull, which served to exacerbate tensions rather than quell the opposition, the Mayor confirmed with the City Clerk that the city’s electronic comment queue did not have the capability to identify which item an individual had signed up to speak on. 

Furthermore, because the item was not amended until after the Council took comment on items not on the agenda, those in opposition to the sloppily-severed part of the motion had no due process opportunity to speak at the meeting. According to Council rules, the Council takes comments on items not on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, at which point the controversial item was still on the agenda.

And therefore, the Mayor would allow everyone to speak. 

But the makers of the motion to restrict noise were not prepared to endure the speech of their opponents. Mayor Pro Tempore Negrete chided Mayor Davis, accusing her of paying back political debts by allowing union members to speak on an item that was no longer on the agenda. City Attorney Doug Sloan seemed unsure if they were required to take comment 

As Mayor Gleam Davis pointed out, those gathered were stoked by an attempt at oppression, had spent the evening away from their homes and families, and waited five hours to address the council on their rights to use free speech in an attempt to advance their economic and professional wellbeing.

To clear any ambiguity and end the squabble on the dais, Councilmembers eventually voted to allow comment on items not on the agenda.

After hearing public comment, Councilmember Brock took a point of personal privilege to address the room.  His tone changed from one of attempted contrition to one of mild indignation. He reiterated the need to balance the rights of protestors with residents rights to rest. He added that he has been a member of multiple unions and that his grandmother once made beds in a hotel in Santa Monica. And he added, for the public record, that he was not racist.

But the room was now mostly empty. Members of UNITE HERE Local 11 had left at the conclusion of public comment to converse and pray outside City Hall.

Mayor Pro Tempore Negrete addressed the empty room next, sharing that she had once been a member of the UFCW grocery union and participated in a picket line, and also that her grandmother also once made beds in a hotel.

After Councilmember Brock and Mayor Pro Tempore Negrete spoke of their union membership and grandmothers’ occupations, the Councilmembers Brock, Parra, de la Torre, and Mayor Pro Tempore Negrete voted to end the meeting (Zwick, Torosis, and Davis opposed). 

As a result, the Council accomplished very little of the City’s business over the 6 and 1/2 hour meeting:

The Council did not adopt ordinances restricting firearm sales or preventing open carry of knives.  

The Council did not adopt an ordinance on neighborhood preservation and vacant properties.  

The Council did not adopt an urgency ordinance to continue shared use scooters and bikes beyond the end of this month.  

The Council did not consider an ordinance to change the City’s taxicab regulation from a franchise to a permit

The Council did not consider a resolution that would allow remote public input in official meetings.

The Council did not consider an exclusive negotiating agreement with a developer of mixed-income housing that wants to bring 570 new homes next to the Downtown Santa Monica Expo Station.

The Council made no appointments to the Human Services Commission or LA West Vector Control District.

An edited video by Youtube user MobilityForWho showcases the chaotic and contentious nature of the meeting:

The Council did not consider the motion to make Santa Monica’s bike lanes safer.

The obvious learning here is that councilmembers should not make motions for which they are not prepared to hear public comment. 

But there is additional cause for concern from this episode in Council dysfunction, though it was not unique. Beginning in December 2023, Mayor Phil Brock will be running council meetings. Multiple dysfunctional meetings like these could paralyze the City’s ability to conduct its business. 

Former Mayor Kevin McKeown wrote that he could not “recall another time ever when a Council majority deliberately chose to abandon the work of the City, apparently because they were unhappy with how the night had gone so far.”

The spotlight could also be challenging for Mayor Brock, if more people judge him on his record rather than his rhetoric to an empty room.

Juan Matute
Juan Matute
Juan writes a column and occasionally does technical stuff for Santa Monica Next.

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