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Councilmember Items Back on the Agenda

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By Jorge Casuso

April 14, 2023 -- More than one and a half years after the City Council took steps to curb the flood of items Council members place on the agenda, the practice continues.

On September 14, 2021, when the Council approved the policy change, the number of Councilmember items had reached 20 over the previous four regular meetings. Over the past four meetings, there have been 15.

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The policy change approved unanimously requires Council members to consult with the City Manager before placing staff administrative items on the agenda. Eight months later, the Council stemmed last-minute items by moving up the submission deadline.

Councilmember items include everything from giving small grants to programs or organizations to suggesting policies that become important ordinances.

"The agenda items are an opportunity to help people by providing funding and to express one's political views," said Councilmember Oscar de la Torre. "It's the Council's most uncensored political expression.

"I think it's mostly positive, and there's also the possibility of grandstanding, but that's politics," de la Torre said. "You still need four votes to pass it."

He added that the items, which are almost always co-sponsored, force Councilmembers "to work collaboratively."

Councilmember Phil Brock -- whose prolific use of agenda items, often submitted shortly before deadline, helped spur the policy changes -- notes that he has sponsored fewer items recently.

That, however, could soon change, Brock said. "I've been concerned at Reed Park about the number of homeless people and crime," he said.

Brock plans to ask the Council to direct staff to explore "creating a dog park there" that would provide "a great place for residents to socialize and dogs to exercise."

"I've been thinking about some other items," Brock said during one of his frequent meetings with residents whose concerns are often addressed in his Councilmember items.

For now, Brock has taken a back seat. Of the 15 items recently approved by the Council, he has co-sponsored only three.

Mayor Gleam Davis co-sponsored seven, followed by newly elected Council members Jesse Zwick with six and Carlorine Torosis with five.

The four items the council discussed this Tuesday included setting a minimum wage for local healthcare workers that one Council member acknowledged could be "irrelevant" ("Council Votes to Draft Minimum Wage Law for Health Care Workers,"April 12, 2023).

The Council also took up items to regulate the time-sharing of single-family homes and condominiums, support Samohi's Latino graduation and rename the Pico Branch Library ("Virginia Park Could Be Renamed After Local Civil Rights Leader," April 13, 2023).

Recent items have addressed reducing traffic fatalities, banning gasoline powered leaf blowers and allowing a vacant surface lot Downtown to be used for parking pending development.

One Councilmember item placed on the agenda last month stirred a lengthy, heated debate and managed to offend the majority of the Council, with several members claiming the proposal was unnecessary.

The item called for City staff to "engage in ongoing dialogue with its permitted sidewalk vending community regarding several items of importance" ("Majority of Council "Offended" By Street Vendor Discussion," March 23, 2023).

Another recent item, this one placed on the agenda by Mayor Davis, addressed Councilmember items themselves.

The item asked staff to clarify that Councilmember items "are to provide Policy direction only" and that no ordinances or resolutions (except those for advocacy) "should be developed or drafted until a majority of Council gives direction."

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