REDONDO BEACH — The public is invited to the City Council's regular meeting next week, but video cameras are not.
If you plan to attend the meeting, the council advises that you not bring a video camera, as uncooperative residents will be swiftly escorted from the chambers.
"It is sort of distracting," said Councilman Jack Chapman in proposing a resolution this week that bans videotaping at council meetings. He pointed to Ann Baker, a Neighborhood Watch organizer who had been quietly aiming her camera at the council all evening.
Chapman's four colleagues agreed, voting unanimously to keep private video cameras out of the chambers. Last week, the council passed a similar ban on cable TV cameras.
"I am not in for a fight, but it is beginning to smack of a dictatorship down there," said Baker, 55, in an interview. "I've gone to three council meetings my entire life. I found that one a little frightening."
Baker said she was taping the meeting for several elderly neighbors who have found it difficult to travel to City Hall. The neighbors requested the tape at a Neighborhood Watch meeting last weekend, which was attended by 64 residents, she said.
Baker regularly tapes the Neighborhood Watch meetings, and she taped a City Council meeting last month. There were no objections at that time, she said.
"The neighbors, mostly little old people, would like to see the meetings on cable," said Baker, a housewife who lives on South Helberta Avenue. "They were very upset when they read that the council was against it."
Baker said her Neighborhood Watch group was particularly enraged by comments by Councilman Archie Snow, who last week said he would not favor televising meetings until he was able to see how he looked.
"They didn't vote him in for his good looks," Baker said. "He doesn't look like Robert Redford. He looks like an old man."
City Atty. Gordon Phillips, clearly uncomfortable with the prohibition Monday night, asked for some time to think about the idea, saying the ban may not be legal. The council members agreed to give him two weeks to come up with an opinion, but they were not about to wait that long to impose the restriction.
"I would like to ensure that it be prohibited until we have his opinion," Chapman said. The council concurred again, voting 5 to 0 to impose the restriction immediately.
Phillips said in an interview that he has made the ban a "priority" and that he will attempt to have an opinion in one week instead of two.
"This one is a very important one, and I am not taking it lightly," he said. "If there is a right of the public to do it, I don't want that right to be abridged for even one meeting. If the council can ban it, I want them to have the authority to do it right away so everyone can know."
Jeff Wald, president of the Radio-TV News Assn. of Southern California and a journalist at KTLA-TV, said the nonprofit group would oppose the restriction if it were applied to reporters with video cameras. He said much of the opposition to the presence of the cameras in public meetings stems from ignorance of how the cameras actually operate.
Wald said that with new technology and cooperation between television stations, meetings and hearings can be televised with minimal disruption to public officials. He said that in most cases additional lights are no longer required for the cameras.
Baker, meanwhile, said she intends to return to the council chambers next Monday night, her video equipment in hand.
"I don't like to have somebody tell me I can't do something that I am entitled to do," she said.
Phillips said violators will be asked to leave the chambers. If they refuse to cooperate, he said, they will be carried away by the police.