- Terelle Jerricks
Town Hall Meeting Gets Positive Reviews, Many Wonder If He’s Listening
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Despite the brightly lit marquee on the Warner Grand Theatre that read, “Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti, Getting L.A. Back to Basics,” local resident Donald Galaz of Project Street Legal believed that few outside those that got the email would have known anything was going on in the almost 90-year-old building.
“You would think that they didn’t want anybody to really know about this event,” Galaz said.
From my count, it appeared that less than 500 were in attendance at the meeting. Just like in the previous 14 Back to Basics town hall meetings, attendees were broken into groups lead by moderators. Attendees wrote solutions to actual problems they’d like to see solved on Post-It notes. The Post-It notes were then affixed to white boards in four categories: Economy, Making the City work, Safety and Everything Else. Attendees then had to vote on the solutions they liked best. Those ideas that got the most votes were made a priority.
During an interview with Random Lengths News after the town hall meeting, Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti mentioned a virtual town hall that was conducted through the news aggregating site Reddit and said he was a believer in grassroots democracy. In fact, his exact words were:
You can’t get the nuance and detail of every idea but that’s part of the reason why they kind of have people pitch ideas and vote on the ones that bubble up to the top. In our virtual town hall, which was done on Reddit, we put some questions out there the day before they would vote on them and they would bubble up to the top. I’m a believer in grassroots democracy, but it also has to be filtered. Not by me, but by the people themselves.
His words seem to explain the manner in which this town hall meeting was conducted. Reddit is a news aggregation site to which users contribute news story links. The stories are then voted on by other users causing some stories to rise to the top and moving others down in priority. When Reddit was still brand new, speakers at the annual Alternative Newsweeklies conference would tout the site as revolutionary in its ability to democratize content and give little known stories an opportunity to trend throughout the Internet. Eight years after its founding, it’s clear that the most trending of news headlines are always the most relevant.
To be sure, the mayor-elect got a lot of kudos for staging this citywide listening tour gathering the best solutions the citizens of Los Angeles could muster. Despite the modest numbers, the event drew Council District 15 residents from diverse parts of the district, including Watts. Early on, attendees were told that the mayor-elect will arrive towards the end after listening in on the groups and making some closing comments afterward.
Two participants in my group gave the mayor-elect at least a B- , noting that the listening tour was a great start.
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, who had also attended the town hall meeting in the 10th Council District said his expectation of the listening tour was different from what took place in San Pedro.
“I think the structure and format was intended to give people a sense of a listening tour, but I wouldn’t call that a listening tour,” Farrell said. “We had three categories with another category labeled ‘everything else.’ I submitted three solutions and none of them were selected. We submitted Post-It notes on which they would later give a report.
“I’m sorry he didn’t get to speak to our group.”
Farrell had the opportunity to see Mayor-elect Garcetti in the 10th District at Hope United Church and thought it closer to a listening session than the one held in San Pedro.
“There’s a whole lot of distance between the 10th District and San Pedro, Farrell said. “I assumed that with San Pedro being the last stop of the listening tour, it would have been the best one. But that’s the structure of the feedback he was requesting.”
Farrell, who was a councilman during the Mayor Tom Bradley years, was glad that the mayor-elect did the listening tour and that he would hold office hours, suggesting that the move was Bradley-esque. He was, however, disappointed that the event drew less than a 1,000 people to participate. Farrell opined that maybe that was just a reflection of low-voter turnout.
“This is Garcetti’s beginning, not Buscaino’s beginning,” he said.
Carrie Scoville, who served in a number of different capacities in neighborhood councils in San Pedro, gave the mayor-elect a B+ and said she was mostly impressed with the town hall meeting. She prefaced her remarks with the admission that she’s only seen three Los Angeles mayoral transitions including the Riordan to Hahn, Hahn to Villaraigosa and now from Villaraigosa to Garcetti.
“I was very impressed by the forum,” Scoville said. “I was impressed he was interested in an open process and that he would do this before he has even taken office.”
She was also impressed that the forum got people focused on solutions rather than a forum for complainers. Scoville noted that outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa didn’t do this in his first days of taking office.
“This was a great start,” Scoville said, enthusiastically. “What he will do with it [the information] is another story.”
Scoville noted that the little Post-It notes on which participants had to write down their suggestions wouldn’t mean much if the moderators aren’t able to communicate with some specificity and knowledge.
While the format of the town hall did a good job in prioritizing broad based solutions over very specific single issue type of solutions, some attendees questioned whether the format prevented deeper discussions of solutions that addressed the way the city relates to its citizens and left lingering questions of whether the event was anything more than a publicity stunt, whether intentionally or not.