More Fun With The Brown Act

After the opinion piece I wrote last month for the L.A. Times about the city’s dysfunctional bicycling network I was contacted personally by the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee chairman Alex Baum who was too kind with his congratulations and who challenged me to attend the BAC’s next scheduled gathering and get a taste of what they’re up against. I said I most certainly would.

But I almost didn’t make it to last night’s meeting — not for lack of rolling up to its downtown location in the L.A. Department of Water and Power building with some of my fellow biking enthusiast/advocates and not for failing to stand firm in the lobby invoking the blessed Brown Act to the lockstep, the-law-is-what-we-say-it-is DWP security personnel who were doing their misinformed best to illegally bar us members of the public from attending a meeting of, by and for the public.

It started out cordial enough with us presenting to the welcoming officer and being told to sign in via the clipboard at the front desk, something I was willing to do as that was the posted requirement of all visitors entering the building. But then out of the blue he asks one of us to present identification and wouldn’t waiver in that demand, even with bike advocate extraordinare Stephen Box quoting the Brown Act chapter and verse and advising the guard that what he was attempting to do was a misdemeanor violation of Section No. 54953.3, which states:

A member of the public shall not be required, as a condition to attendance at a meeting of a legislative body of a local agency, to register his or her name, to provide other information, to complete a questionnaire, or otherwise to fulfill any condition precedent to his or her attendance.

This guy couldn’t have given a lesser crap, with him it was either present an ID and have that information recorded or get out. He did make a attempt at clarification by asking a fellow officer via radio if people could go to the 15th floor without producing ID and the no-way response to his loaded inquiry simply reinforced his stubbornness. So our next step was to request the attention of the watch commander and after several minutes he arrived and things only got worse.

Not only did this guy in charge insist that ID be required, he maintained that the public meeting wasn’t public. And in addition just for kicks he instructed his officers that all our bags were to be searched. Not the nicely dressed people backed up behind us with their purses and briefcases. Nah, just us pesky gadfly bicyclistas.

Left to their own arbitrary devices and my imagination I could picture the inquisitional demands escalating to include submitting to cavity searches, supplying notarized loyalty oaths and the recitation of “I’m the DWP’s bitch” 10 times fast while spinning counterclockwise and tapping our heads with our left hand while rubbing our tummies with our right. And none of it would’ve been enough to be garner entry.

Thankfully relief and intelligence arrived in the form of an LAPD bicycle patrol officer who was destined for the same meeting we were being barred from. When Box asked the officer to school these DWP folks on their egregious ignorance of Brown Act basics, he did and miracle of miracles: all of sudden all the building’s elevators simultaneously arrived at the first floor and opened all floodlit with angels singing as ID was no longer required and bags were only cursorily checked and without having our rights further violated we all got to go to the meeting, which was entirely edifying yet uneventful in comparison.

14 thoughts on “More Fun With The Brown Act”

  1. On a more serious note, I’m curious if the security guard is responsible for following the Brown Act, or if its up to his employer to train him on it? Who would could be reprimanded, legally, for the violation?

  2. Will, thanks to you and Stephen for standing up for our rights! You guys rock.

    Angles in the DWP elevators??? They probably got lost on the way to the cathedral up the street.

  3. It is truly sad that people have to go through this much BS (and personal education) just to get into a public meeting.

    On another note, I think a great resource would be a site/blog that collects info on all these public meetings into one easy-to-use source. Is there anything like this already?


  4. This was an important reason why the Downtown neighborhood council moved its meetings away from the DWP building. Though actually we had a homeless rep on the Board that showed up without ID every month and still got in.

  5. Discarted:

    Sue? For what?

    Will *almost* having his rights violated?

    Surely the justice system has more important things to deal with than with each and every incident like this.

    Besides which, what would Will stand to recover? Compensatory damages for his time wasted?

    I’m sick of people thinking that the solution to everything is to sue.


  6. Markland makes the best point: sue who? Joz makes the 2d best point – kinda – with, must the answer to everything be litigation?

    It is correct to sh*t talk those that trained the security guard. That poor dude’s job is to do what he’s told and if something bad happens, you can be he’s the first to get the axe so the building supervisors can say whatever situation was created was “Dealt With” accordingly.

    So the beef is with DWP, not the guy who only knows that his job is to make sure he knows who is coming or going.

    Any more hate leveled at him is akin to ass-munch travelers at the airport shrieking bloody murder at TSA agents because those poor dudes wrote the regulations and policies, right?

    So – props for knowing your rights under the Brown Act – further complaints should go straight to both DWP and the board(s) holding meetings there.

  7. A lawsuit over this incident might be a little silly, but as we’ve seen in the past few days there seems to be a lot of violations of the Brown Act. So what’s it going to take to get everyone to understand some of the simplest of rules?

    But, Will’s rights were violated. He was hassled on the way in. You shouldn’t have to argue your basic rights to get by a doorman/security – not for a second. I don’t think its too far a stretch to see how the security guards actions might scare someone away from being part of the governmental process.

  8. No, you shouldn’t have to argue your basic rights to get in, but I hardly think a lawsuit is the way to change the way things work around there.

    At the very least, it would be circuitous and time consuming, not to mention wasteful of taxpayers money, in terms of another case clogging up an already overtaxed justice system.

    Markland, you’re right for asking:
    “So what’s it going to take to get everyone to understand some of the simplest of rules?”

    Somehow, I doubt the answer to that would be “lawsuit.”

  9. phew. i’m glad i skipped this one.

    good for will and stephen for fightin’ the good fight.

    i myself, am stepping out the ring for now.

    The BAC meetings i attended filled me with such an uncomfortable level of frustration. It was palpable and almost toxic.

    They got me thinking-

    Why do i ride a bicycle?

    something about, because it is fun and really good for my health and spirit????

    Also, riding a bicycle really is the best way to commute around a town. Perhaps City Officials in LA will make some accommodations for us cyclists, one day down the road.

    Here’s to unicorn wishes and fairy tale dreams!

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