As a young reporter fresh out of journalism school, I’ve attended a fair share of city council meetings. I know the drill – grab an early dinner, fill up on coffee and bring your laptop. It’s going be a long night.
Or maybe not. Monday’s Alhambra City Council meeting ended in 27 minutes. That was a record for me. But other contributors for the Alhambra Source have told me this is no record in Alhambra — a few have been even shorter. Most of the meetings I’ve covered are in more affluent communities like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and South Pasadena have lasted anywhere from three to more than four hours.
Perhaps, residents of these communities are more involved in local government because they have more time on their hands to sit through lengthy city council meetings. After all, as a San Gabriel native who went to school in Alhambra, I had never gone to a city council meeting in my hometown. But it could not only be that. When I called up the Monterey Park city clerk, she told me they last on average three-and-a-half hours, and about 15 concerned community members are usually there. And one dedicated attendee of Alhambra City Council meetings said there was a time when they lasted past midnight. That was in 2001.
Mayor Yamauchi told me he isn't concerned. The speed of recent meetings, he said, reflects a lack of pressing local concerns. "The reason the agenda was very short at the meeting and the last couple of meetings is because we haven’t had any issues to discuss in Alhambra right now," Yamauchi said. "Another reason is the possibility that the redevelopment agency may be abolished, which is putting a lot of business on hold."
That could explain why the agenda was so short last Monday. But in my experience, not only are the meetings long, the Council chambers are always filled with concerned residents waiting for their chance to address their local government officials. (Show up 20 minutes early in South Pasadena and you’re lucky if you get a seat.) Residents want to be heard, and many come with notes and photos to help their cause. People speak from the heart as they discuss their grievances with the city planning commission, police department and local administrators. In Alhambra, Monday’s City Council chamber was empty except for two residents and a few city employees who spent much of the 27 minutes browsing on their iPads, BlackBerrys and Kindles. Where were the concerned citizens of Alhambra?
Yamauchi added that residents will not attend meetings when there are few items on the agenda. "If the meeting is going to be short and there is going to be very little business — why are you going to come out?" Yamauchi said. "We encourage people to come out — maybe a lot of them were just watching TV."
The two residents who did show up on Monday received a quick turnaround. One with a hearing disability pleaded with the council to add a disability commission to the city’s upcoming strategic plan. Mayor Yamauchi told the man he would consider the possibility. Another resident wanted to know why her car was towed despite having a parking pass (she did admit to slightly blocking her neighbor’s driveway). Yamauchi directed her to interim police chief, James Anthony.
After breezing through the staff report and approving the items on the agenda, Yamauchi made several announcements during council communications: an upcoming cupcake competition, Alhambra Dodgers Night and the Knights of Columbus Car Show. By 7:30 everyone was on their way out the door.