OPEN MEETINGS -- "A Superior Court judge tentatively ruled Monday that the Los Angeles
City Council violated the state's open meeting law by approving a
76,000-square-foot shopping center in South Los Angeles without giving
the public sufficient advance notice," reports David Zahnhizer in the Los Angeles Times.

The ruling will probably force the council to conduct a new vote on the
project, which called for a supermarket and pharmacy at Slauson and
Central avenues but drew strong opposition from the South Central
Farmers Action Fund, a community group.


Judge James C. Chalfant said he would probably invalidate the Aug. 15,
2008, vote, which occurred during one of the council's "special"
meetings -- the kind that can be called with just 24 hours' notice.
South Central Farmers, among others, said it did not receive
notification in time to arrange testimony on its behalf.


"We couldn't mobilize to present our concerns about the project" the
last time, said Tezozomoc, a representative of the farmers group.


Councilwoman Jan Perry, a proponent of the project, said she would
favor a revote if one is required by the court. Tezozomoc, who has
criticized the city's use of taxpayer dollars to develop the project,
said he hoped to get at least 15 people to City Hall to weigh in if a
new vote is held.


The lawsuit took particular aim at the council's reliance on so-called
special meetings, which are typically added to the council's calendar
one day before a meeting. Under the state's open meeting law, regular
meetings require at least 72 hours' notice.


Robert P. Silverstein, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, had argued that the
council cannot "cheat the public" out of the 72-hour notice period. He
also said the council had conducted special meetings on nearly half of
the days that it met in 2007 and 2008.


Chalfant said the city had a right to hold special meetings. But he
also concluded that the council violated state law by convening its
special session in the middle of its regular Aug. 15 meeting.

Chalfant found that the city had prepared an inaccurate journal of its
proceedings, using "an imaginary adjournment vote" to describe the end
of its special meeting. He also said an agenda item dealing with the
shopping center project was too vague and should have provided more
information.

The actual shell game central to this case was the scheduling of a meeting of the referring committee within the 72-hour notice period of the council meeting, then scheduling a special meeting of the council itself during an adjournment of the council's regular meeting, acting in the special meeting to transfer the referred item to the regular meeting agenda—in less than a minute—then re-convening the regular meeting to take up the transferred referral item for action, thus approving a matter never specifically listed as such on the council's regular meeting agenda.