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.