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Much Noise, No Action on Union Protests

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By Jorge Casuso

September 14, 2023 -- The City Council on Tuesday engaged in lengthy debates about parliamentary procedure before listening to dozens of speakers address an issue that had been pulled from the agenda.

Sponsored by Councilmembers Phil Brock and Lana Negrete, the item was meant to address growing complaints from residents awakened by drums, whistles and chanting from striking hotel workers as early as 5:30 a.m.

But the core of the item directing staff to revisit the City's noise ordinance and push back the start time for protests from 7 to 8 a.m. was pulled by Brock near the end of the meeting.

"I'd like, if possible, for the City Manager and City Attorney just to have a volunteer discussion with Unite HERE Local 11 about any excess noise early in the morning," Brock said.

The surprising move came after Brock had expressed frustrations last week that the City's efforts to convince the union to abide by the law had failed ("City Council to Tackle Noise," September 11, 2023).

It also left a room packed with more than three dozen union members in red T-shirts and their supports who had waited five hours to speak.

And it put the Council in a tenuous position: Could the speakers address an issue that was no longer on the agenda?

After consulting the law and parliamentary procedures City Attorney Doug Sloan had an answer.

The Council "is not required to hear the testimony," Sloan said, but "it's up to the Council whether you want to hear it."

Negrete complained that she had watched Mayor Gleam Davis turn away pedicab operators and street vendors and students who tried to address an item that was not on the agenda.

She called Davis' decision to allow members of the locally powerful union speak "a political move to serve political debts."

The Mayor called the charge "unfair," and she said it was "grossly unfair that they have sat through this entire meeting and at a last-minute maneuver to now tell them they can't now speak."

One by one the speakers defended their First Amendment right to protest, sometimes using an interpreter to read their speeches in English.

"We chant and drum because this is how we express ourselves," one union member said, echoing a common sentiment.

"The hotels are trying to use the City Council to silence us," another said, as union members stood during the testimony waving hands in a show of support.

More than a few asked the City Attorney to investigate an August 5 protest outside the Miramar Hotel that resulted in a tense standoff diffused by the arrival of police ("Tensions Escalate on Hotel Picket Lines," August 8, 2023).

Speakers said the videotaped encounter shows hotel security attacking workers and their supporters. "I think they have a very salient point about the violence at the Miramar," Brock said.

He also defended himself from accusations by the union "of wanting to stifle protests and free speech in Santa Monica," noting that his grandmother had been a local hotel worker and that he had belonged to five unions.

The union has a right to protest, Brock said, but residents who live near the hotels "have a right to quiet enjoyment during what would be quiet hours. Obviously, that's not what Local 11 wants."

"If they don't want to be a strong supporter of residents, as civil government we have to take action at this point," he said. "I promise to bring this back if this union and their workers don't find a way to respect their neighbors."

City Manager David White said he "did reach out and spoke with their attorney" and raised the noise issue. "It's the honking of cars, the bull horns, the drumming," he said.

"So we did ask them to give consideration to our ordinance," White said. "I didn't hear any issues this weekend, but I did open up the conversation with them."

A motion to continue the meeting past 11 p.m. failed on a 3 to 4 vote, so the Council will take up the remaining Councilmember agenda items at its meeting September 26.

"I sat here watching this debate and discussion," said Councilmember Oscar de la Torre before casting a no vote. "The mayor did not handle it in the most appropriate way, and people are frustrated.

"I regret that we couldn't continue, but I understand where the frustration comes from."

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