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Angry Speakers Push Back After Lengthy Closed Session

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By Jorge Casuso

January 25, 2023 -- A four-hour closed session Tuesday yielded one eagerly awaited decision by the City Council and unleashed the frustration of those who had packed the chamber waiting to speak.

"I really do want to apologize," said Mayor Gleam Davis, after the Council returned to the dais. "We had a number of things to discuss, and it was a robust discussion. Sometimes that happens."

Of the ten items on the closed session agenda, City Attorney Doug Sloan only reported on the lawsuit filed against Measure GS, the transfer tax hike approved by voters in November.

"The City will be defending the Measure GS challenge," Sloan said.

Sloan had hinted at the probable outcome in an email response to a community activist before the meeting.

"I will say the default is we will defend all suits against the City, unless directed otherwise," he wrote.

Filed in LA Superior Court by a statewide business group, the lawsuit claims that Measure GS violates the California Constitution's “single-subject” rule because it generates funding for two separate purposes ("Lawsuit Seeks to Void Transfer Tax Hike," January 18, 2023).

The Council took no action on the other nine items on the agenda, which included lawsuits filed by an estimated 100 plaintiffs who claim they were sexually abused by a former City employee when they were children and teens.

The City has already settled with nearly 90 plaintiffs for a total of $107,325,000 ("More Sex Abuse Cases Against the City Filed as Deadline Looms," December 20, 2022).

The plaintiffs claim they were sexually abused by Eric Uller -- a systems analyst working in the Public Safety building -- when he was a Police Activities League (PAL) volunteer between approximately 1987 and 1999.

Another lawsuit on the closed session agenda was filed by the City against six insurance companies in an effort to recover nearly $100 million it used from its General Fund to settle the cases.

The cases are expected to take between three and five years to decide, according to those familiar with the proceedings ("City Seeks to Recoup Nearly $100 Million in Sex Abuse Settlement Costs," January 9., 2023).

Other items included real estate negotiations with Rusty's Surf Ranch and former City Councilmember Greg Morena to come up with a price and terms for the proposed transfer and extension of the lease of a City-owned property on the Santa Monica Pier.

Another item discussed in closed session involved negotiations between the City and 1212, a popular Promenade restaurant seeking a license agreement to operate sidewalk dining.

Speakers eager to weigh in on a Councilmember item "to discuss and develop strategies to revitalize the Third Street Promenade" fought back when Mayor Gleam Davis suggested postponing the discussion.

The mayor's efforts o table the item led to frequent outbursts that only grew more confrontational.

"This is not an interactive situation," she said. "We get to discuss it amongst ourselves, and you get to watch it."

When members of the audience continued to interrupt and ignored Davis' pleas to display their emotions silently with "happy hands," she threatened to have them removed.

"If you continue to interrupt us, we will ask you to leave,and if you don't leave voluntarily, we have a couple of officers in the back who will help you leave," she said.

After a brief discussion at the tail end of the meeting, the Council approved the Councilmember item to help bring back the world-renown shopping strip plagued by vacancies and a highly visible homeless presence.

They also called for looking at expanding outdoor dining opportunities and considering establishing an arts and entertainment district in the 1200 block of the Promenade.

Councilmember Lana Negrete, a sponsor of the item, said the City needed to "bring everyone to the table so we can do everything possible to bring back our Promenade."

Let's find a way we can all work together to make this happen," said Councilmember Christine Parra, who along with Oscar de la Torre co-sponsored the item.

"Let's reinvigorate the space," Parra said. "Let's get it going."

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