Long Beach Hospitality Alliance claims four LB officials possibly violated city code during hotel-safety ordinance voting session

Councilmembers not present for roll call before voting was done may be their ‘justification,’ city attorney says.

Four Long Beach councilmembers, who stepped out during a vote a few weeks ago, may have unwillingly violated a city code, according to a local alliance group.
The city council decided the next step of a hotel-safety ordinance during a council meeting on Oct. 23.

The ordinance amended the municipal code by adding Chapter 5.54, which related to hotel-worker safety precautions.

Councilmembers Jeannine Pearce, 2nd district, Lena Gonzalez, 1st district, Rex Richardson, 9th district, and Roberto Uranga, 7th district, all voiced their concerns over the agenda item before a vote could be made.

A series of questioning between the four councilmembers and other ity officials ensued. Before the council voted on the ordinance, Pearce, Gonzalez, Uranga and Richardson excused themselves and stepped out of the council chamber.

The councilmembers’s actions displayed during that meeting raised concern from the Long Beach Hospitality Alliance (LBHA).

The LBHA published a press release on Nov. 1 claiming that the four councilmembers who did not vote on the hotel-safety ordinance and left their posts may have violated a city code.

The press release quotes Long Beach Municipal Code 2.03.050-B, which reads “councilmembers are required to cast votes except when a conflict of interest exists and abstention is required by state law. Every member of the council who is present when a roll is called shall vote for or against the question, unless excused by a majority of the members present, prior to the calling of the roll on such question.”

Pete Hillan, a LBHA spokesperson, told the Signal Tribune during a phone interview Nov. 6 that residents should expect elected officials to “show up and do their jobs.”

“You expect good governance no matter where you might stand on the issue,” he said. “I think that’s a question for [the councilmembers] to answer. That’s a question that I think a lot of Long Beach voters and citizens are asking, ‘Why did they abandon their duties?’”

Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin told the Signal Tribune during a phone interview Nov. 6 that the LBHA is making code-violation claim based on a very specific portion of the municipal code.

In terms of code 2.03.050-B, the councilmembers were not in violation because they were not present when the roll call was made before the votes were cast, according to the city attorney.

“The issue here is they weren’t present in the chamber when the role was called,” Parkin said. “That, I assume, would be their justification for not voting.”

Parkin explained that the City does not usually stop and call back councilmembers during meetings to vote on agenda items.

“This is, I will be the first to admit, very unique,” he said. “To my knowledge, it’s never happened before where four of them intentionally leave the meeting so that they won’t vote or don’t vote on an item.”

Perkins said that it is up to the city council to make up penalties or restrictions for members that leave if they wish to address it moving forward.

“Some people argue a much broader view of ‘present,’” he said. “If you announce ‘present’ at the roll call at the beginning of the meeting, I think some people would suggest, ‘Well then, you are there for the meeting and you need to vote on every single item.’ But I think everyone has to admit that that isn’t the practice of our city council.”

The Signal Tribune reached out many times to the offices of Pearce, Gonzalez, Uranga and Richardson through phone and email to clarify their motives for not voting and leaving their seats. They did not offer a response by press time.

There were moments throughout the discussion portion of the ordinance during the Oct. 23 meeting, however, where the four councilmembers displayed possible reasons for abstaining their votes.

The two main points Richardson, Pearce, Uranga and Gonzalez mentioned were the speed at which the ordinance was developed and the lack of outreach efforts made to small businesses about the ordinance.

“I feel very uncomfortable moving forward with an ordinance that would dictate something for those hotels– 50 rooms or less,” Pearce said during the meeting.

Richardson and Uranga also said they felt the ordinance was fast-tracked, and that by putting it up for a vote during election season would make residents feel it was politically driven.

Gonzalez put forth a substitute motion to receive and file the ordinance and to conduct more small hotel and motel outreach efforts. Richardson made a substitute-substitute motion to consult with smaller hotel businesses and bring back the original hotel-safety ordinance to the council after elections because he said residents may assume the ordinance is politically driven.

Councilmember Al Austin, 8th district, did not support the substitute motions because he felt the council had been criticized in the past for not acting swiftly for hotel-worker safety.

“This ordinance reflects the will of this entire council to provide greater protections for women in the hotel industry,” he said.

All nine councilmembers voted on both those motions, but they failed to pass. Before the original hotel-safety ordinance was voted on, Pearce and Gonzalez excused themselves from their seats, followed by Uranga.

Richardson asked Councilmember Suzie Price, 3rd district, for a “friendly amendment” to be added that would give the council an outline of how the ordinance would be implemented. Price declined Richardson’s request. Shortly after, Richardson stepped away from his seat.

The hotel-safety ordinance passed with a 5-0 vote. A second hearing of the ordinance will take place on Nov. 13.

“You may have another episode of them walking out on the 13th,” Hillan said. “It would be interesting to see what they do.”