L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti was among four council members who did… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
A quarrel at the Los Angeles City Council over strategies for helping homeless residents on Friday sparked a campaign debate over Councilman Eric Garcetti's frequent absences from meetings as he runs for mayor.
The council's 10 a.m. meeting came to a halt after council members Richard Alarcon and Jan Perry got into a dispute over efforts to encourage the installation of public restrooms and storage facilities at apartments planned for the homeless.
Alarcon stormed out before a vote could be held on a plan to provide $18 million for construction of housing for the "chronically" homeless, or those considered most difficult to house. With only nine of the 14 council members left in the room, the body lacked a quorum and had to cancel the meeting.
Garcetti was among the four council members who were absent. (A fifth council seat is currently unfilled.) The mayoral candidate has missed 10 of the council's last 12 meetings since he came in first in the March 5 primary election, according to Ed Johnson, spokesman for Council President Herb Wesson.
Perry, who supports Garcetti, said the vote on the $18 million will be held Tuesday. Nevertheless, the campaign of Garcetti's opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel, seized on the situation. "When you earn $178,000 per year, taxpayers have the very basic right to expect council members to show up and do their job," said Greuel strategist John Shallman. "Apparently Mr. Garcetti had better things to do."
Greuel's campaign did not have a tabulation for this year, but asserted that Garcetti had missed 112 out of 1,227 meetings between July 2003 and December 2012.
Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman defended the councilman, saying he has been in close contact with Wesson and other city officials to make sure that his campaign schedule does not jeopardize the quorum. While Garcetti is eligible for a salary of $178,000, he has volunteered for a $15,000 annual pay cut to help with the city's financial crisis, Millman added.
"This is another shameless attack coming from Ms. Greuel, who has used her time in office meeting with every lobbyist in town, including more than a dozen times with the lobbyists for the DWP union trying to buy this election for her," he said.
How Greuel has spent her time since last summer is not entirely clear. For several weeks, her office has failed to provide copies of her calendar for the period spanning July 12 to Jan. 16, which were requested by The Times. On Friday, The Times submitted a new request for Greuel's calendar covering the last three months.
Johnson, Wesson's spokesman, said all of Garcetti's absences were excused. Wesson does not ask council members why they need to be absent, but rejects their requests when he thinks the council will lose a quorum, he said.
The $18-million plan presented to the council is supposed to help pay for 136 units of "supportive housing," the kind that offers an array of social services, such as mental health counseling. Building those homes would allow the city to meet the requirements of a 2007 legal settlement calling for the construction of 1,250 units to alleviate homelessness, according to city officials.
Perry asked her colleagues to drop a provision that would make housing projects more likely to receive city funding if they include public bathrooms, storage units and laundry facilities for the homeless. Keeping that language, she said, would make the homeless housing projects too expensive and much more difficult for them to win neighborhood support.
Alarcon disagreed, saying the city has been sued when police have confiscated the belongings of homeless people. "I'm in Pacoima. I think I know what my community needs," he said. "And one of the things they need is storage facilities, laundry and public restrooms."
When it looked as though Alarcon wasn't going to get support for that position, he walked out of the room. The council took a break and found a way to lure him back. After he returned, Perry suggested a compromise to allow the public restrooms, storage units and laundry facilities in Alarcon's northeast San Fernando Valley district.
Alarcon was not satisfied and when a vote was called, he walked out a second time. One of the city's security officers tried to bring Alarcon back, but instead he ran upstairs to his fourth-floor office.
"I'm sorry," he told the officer. "I'm voting with my feet."