Amid noisy protest, the L.A. City Council — listening via earbud — conducts its business

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday held its first in-person meeting in nearly two weeks, during which it plowed through its agenda and spent more than 90 minutes making public comments over the phone while protesters from the audience shouted, sang and jeered.

The sounds of the non-stop protests were deafening in the council chambers, where onlookers repeated their call for the overthrow of councilors Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, making it all but impossible to hear neither the councilors nor the testimonies over the phone.

But for those watching the meeting remotely, the technology offered a very different experience: viewers of youtube could clearly hear both the testimonies and the comments of council members, which were occasionally interrupted by the noise in the background.

Council members plugged in earphones so they could hear their peers and the testimonies in the chamber. They scheduled a special election for April 4 to replace former council member Nury Martinez, who resigned after The Times reported racist and derogatory remarks she made during a secretly recorded conversation with Cedillo, De León and Ron Herrera, the then top officials of the district association, had done the work.

The Council also voted to appoint Councilor Curren Price to the Board’s No. 2 leadership position. As he stood to address his colleagues, protesters erupted in chants of “shame on you”. None of Price’s remarks could be heard in the chamber without earphones and an audio or video transmission.

Council President Paul Krekorian said at his first meeting chairing the council afterwards that he was determined to ensure he and his colleagues ran the city’s affairs while allowing onlookers to vent their anger.

Councilor Joe Buscaino listens to public comment through a headset.

Councilor Joe Buscaino listens to public comment through a headset.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

“That is the essence of democracy. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes people get angry,” he later told reporters. “You always have to try to find that balance.”

Artist, actress and activist Michelle Hope Walker, who attended Tuesday’s meeting in person, said she liked the fact that Krekorian had denied De León’s request for an excused absence. At the same time, she said the protests must continue.

“[De León] has to resign, and all this has to go on until he does – close meetings, [appearing] in front of his house, the marches, everything else,” she said.

Walker said she found De León “arrogant” during an hour-long interview with Tavis Smiley on KBLA Talk 1580 AM, which took place just before the council meeting. “His apology tour isn’t going well,” she said, “because he sounds more racist than ever.”

During that interview, Smiley De León pressed whether his constituents were well served by a council member who has refused to step down but has also not attended meetings.

“I’m trying to give some time to heal,” De León said. “I’m trying to take some time to not be a part of the chaos in that moment.”

Councilor Curren D. Price, third from left, was elected to the Council's No. 2 leadership position.

Councilor Curren D. Price, third from left, was elected to the Council’s No. 2 leadership position.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Protesters were gathered outside the radio station during the interview, Smiley pointed out, and have also gathered near De León’s Eagle Rock home. During his interview, De León apologized for his comments while speaking to Martinez and Cedillo, saying he failed to show leadership when he failed to cut racist remarks from Martinez.

De León told Smiley he planned to endorse MP Karen Bass for mayor before the recording was released. He also said Price should attend last year’s meeting with Martinez and Cedillo.

Price said in a statement De León was not telling the truth — and that he was not invited to the “now infamous meeting that brought great humiliation to City Hall.”

“Such a pathetic attempt to save your own fur is frankly disgusting,” said Price, who plans to protest alongside Black Lives Matter at De Leon’s home on Tuesday night.

Protesters hold signs denouncing Councilor Kevin de León at Tuesday's city council meeting. He didn't attend.

Protesters hold signs denouncing Councilor Kevin de León at Tuesday’s city council meeting. He didn’t attend.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

At City Hall, the number of protesters who gathered outside the council was much smaller than the crowded crowds seen two weeks ago. About three dozen people clapped, banged on benches and shouted “no resignations, no assemblies” – one of many chants sung during council meetings.

In the back of the chamber, television news crews filmed live and interviewed protesters. After the meeting ended, protesters left the room while shouting “We’ll be back.”

Even before the leak scandal, there were repeated disturbances in the council chamber. However, Tuesday’s meeting appeared to be the first time the council had moved forward with business, although shouting and singing continued throughout the meeting. In the past they have sometimes paused to try to regain control or ordered the police to clear the chamber.

The council had spent the previous week meeting remotely in the chambers following a COVID-19 exposure. Krekorian spokesman Hugh Esten said Tuesday’s meeting marked the first time the council had held a meeting that combined live testimonies with public comment over the phone. Amid noisy protest, the L.A. City Council — listening via earbud — conducts its business

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