Alhambra City Council meetings: record speed?

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."

A relatively full meeting last year still has a half-empty chamber.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."

A relatively full meeting last year still has a half-empty chamber.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.

8 thoughts on “Alhambra City Council meetings: record speed?”

  1. Thank you for the Article. This is the first time for me, an Alhambra resident for 18 years, to know something about the City Council Meeting.
    One thing I want to tell the City Council for long time now is that the City should avoid doing any construction work that will slow the traffic in rush hours.
    I know many Alhambra residents who don’t know or don’t want to come to the Meeting because of their English.
    ***************************************
    Chinese Translation:
    感谢你的文章。这是我的第一次,作为18年的Alhambra居民,知道一些市议员会议的信息。
    有一事我一直想告诉市议员们,本市应该尽量避免在交通繁忙的时段做阻碍交通的建设。
    我知道有很多Alhambra居民因为英语不好而不知道或者不愿参加市政会。

  2. I can appreciate Jennifer’s interest to gather information at Alhambra’s council meeting, however, the article picks at the length and not the content of the meeting. “As a young reporter fresh out of journalism school”, she may not know that execution of actions happens outside of meetings. If a city can be named one of the most business friendly cities in the state and not have a room full of disgruntled citizens, I think that’s a win.

    1. I’m not sure it’s possible to have much content when the meetings are that short. And I’m not quite sure what you mean by the “execution of actions.” Obviously the implementation of Council decision occurs outside of meetings, something I’m sure Jennifer recognizes. However the decision making needs to be occurring in the open during public meetings, in accordance to the Brown Act, not behind closed doors.

      If anything, such short meetings indicate that Alhambra’s leaders are all content with maintaining the status quo, not that the City is run any more efficiently than South Pasadena, Monterey Park, or San Marino, where meetings run on average far longer.

      As for the City being business friendly, that’s great, but why are so many shuttered storefronts if that’s the case?

  3. Unless I’m misunderstanding the tone of this article, it sounds like the author is complaining about the brevity of these meetings. City council meetings are for transparency. The agendas are posted, the meetings are televised, and everything is in the open. Unless you are like one particular community member who comes to every meeting of every commission just to complain, what’s the point of having the meeting any longer? Don’t mistake community apathy as the reason so few people present in the gallery.

  4. Interesting report. In order to increase the attendance for those council meetings, Alhambra may like to provide more information about it to its residents, fliers in the mail or front page notification on the around alhambra newspaper which is delivered to every address in the city. Found a quick type though. “who when to school in Alhambra”. It should be “went” not “when”. 🙂

    1. Dah! I got a typo here myself. “typo” not “type”. LOL

      1. Thanks for the heads up about the typo. I definitely miss having copy editors and proofreaders. So, any community proofing is greatly appreciated.

  5. I love efficient governing. MPK, you need to step up, especially with this new set of city council members.

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