Over the past year, two groups of community activists have been aggressively drumming up support for their respective causes, one fighting for a ban on advertising in city parks while the other pursues a ban on single-use plastic bags.
Both groups have worked the neighborhood council circuit with success that allows them to argue their case before City Council while holding handfuls of resolutions of support in the air.
Both groups have aligned themselves with like-minded organizations that lend their professional non-profit advocacy seal-of-approval to the cause, joining activists at the podium with an air of credibility that is supported by data, science and objectivity.
Both groups held events around town to engage the public who signed petitions and followed organizers to commission meetings, committee meetings, and eventually to City Hall where, some charge, all is for naught because when the fix is in, the fix is in.
This past week, LA’s City Council took public testimony on the proposed plastic bag ban, prompting Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold to point out, “This body acted in 2008 and committed to moving forward with a ban on single-use plastic bags.”
The City Council responded by taking testimony from a full house of proponents and opponents before continuing any Council discussion and action on the single-use plastic bag ban issue until their last meeting of the year on Friday, December 16, 2011.
In an odd bit of Kabuki Theatre, the issue went to City Council over the objections of Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry who had the issue agendized in the Energy and Environment Committee.
Whew! Three Council hearings in one week for an issue that has languished for years.
Optimists hold that this enthusiasm bodes well for the single-use plastic bag ban. Pessimists point out that by holding multiple meetings with public testimony, the Council can proceed with discussion and action during the last meeting of the year without the clutter of public comment.
In either case, this journey of anticipated success is in sharp contrast with the travails of those who sought a ban on advertising in city parks, an uphill battle that was made more difficult because of the potential to fatten the city’s coffers with revenue from the park advertising.
The campaign to ban advertising in city parks was mobilized when LA’s Rec & Parks Commission signed a deal with Warner Bros. that allowed signs promoting a “Yogi Bear” movie in return for $46,000.
Community activists rose to the occasion in a battle that saw LA’s City Attorney grapple with Rec & Parks Commission President Barry Sanders over the definition of advertising and the legality of park sign districts.
As the Parks Commission appeared to back down from its plan to sell advertising rights in city parks, it was a media investigation that revealed the plan that would allow the non-profit LA Parks Foundation to sell advertising in popular areas such as Griffith Park and Venice Beach.
In a clear demonstration of contempt for Griffith Park’s status as America’s largest urban wilderness park and of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots for conservation, the Mayor looks at Griffith Park and sees a potential sign district with revenue potential.
As community activists continue to fight for a ban on city park advertising, the Mayor is pursuing an overhaul of LA’s sign ordinance that will create “innovative revenue sources” such as wilderness advertising.
When Colonel Griffith J. Griffith gifted the City of LA with the land that became Griffith Park, it came with conditions including a requirement that it remain open and free of charge, “a place of rest and relaxation for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people.”
Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry has defended the proposed sign ordinance revisions that would allow advertising in public parks, most recently coming under fire at the Venice Neighborhood Council when she said “It provides opportunity for funding to continue in the parks and I think we should let them do it.”
Perry alluded to “opt-out” options that she indicated she would be willing to include in the sign ordinance, saying “I’m not interested in jamming something down people’s throats that they don’t want.”
If only it were that simple!
In both cases, community activists have engaged in journeys that are exhausting, filled with meetings and hearings that turn out to be tests of patience and endurance.
Weeks turn into months which turn into years. City staff members come and go, Commission members shuffle seats, City Council committee assignments change, and through it all, the issue is kept alive by community volunteers.
It’s a “Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t!” scenario that sees activists sit for hours in the hope of delivering a compelling argument in the 60 seconds that is typically allocated to speakers when a decent crowd shows up for public comment.
Failure to attend a meeting provides “silence is consent” coverage to the City Council, allowing them to conduct the legislative sleight of hand that is the hallmark of a body that votes unanimously in predetermined outcomes 99.3% of the time.
It’s been a long year and as the City Council looks back, typically with a celebratory tally of the motions they have passed, it remains to be seen whether the single-use plastic bag ban will materialize or if LA’s parks will turn into sign districts.
One thing is for certain, the unsung heroes in these battles are the individuals who stand up and engage the Mayor and the Council in the process, however flawed it may be, and defend our neighborhoods, our communities, and our city by fighting the good fight! Even if that process inevitably leaves those heroes with a sense that the fix is most likely in.