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Canceled council vote sparks criticism over Garcetti absences

April 12, 2013|By David Zahniser

A quarrel at the Los Angeles City Council over strategies for helping homeless residents on Friday ignited a political debate over Councilman Eric Garcetti's frequent absences from meetings during his run 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 that have been 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 (one council seat is currently unfilled). He has missed 10 of the council's last 12  meetings since he came in first in the March 5 mayoral primary, according to Ed Johnson, spokesman for Council President Herb Wesson.

Perry, who supports Garcetti, said the vote on the $18 million will be rescheduled for Tuesday. Nevertheless, the campaign of Garcetti opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel, seized on the situation, releasing a list of Garcetti's absences from the last decade.

"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 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 said in an email that "both Eric and Wendy have been spending time away from City Hall to meet with L.A. residents and discuss citywide issues" during the campaign.

"Eric's office is in close contact with the council president's office to set his schedule so that it does not affect a quorum. Eric is also in constant contact with his office so that its policy and constituent services work carries on as usual," he said.

How Greuel has spent her time since last summer is not entirely clear. For months, her office has failed to turn over 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.

Wesson spokesman Johnson said all of Garcetti's absences were excused. Wesson, who has endorsed Garcetti, does not ask council members why they need to be absent and rejects their requests when he thinks the council will lose a quorum, Johnson 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 of supportive housing, according to a report on the plan.

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 with that concept, 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."

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Twitter: @DavidZahniser

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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