The Santa Ana Coalition for Better Government, a grassroots group of residents and business owners, held its first community forum last week and discussed, among other things, the lack of transparency at City Hall.
It was the group’s first meeting and billed as a forum for residents who felt they weren’t being listened to during public comments at Santa Ana City Council meetings. As Voice of OC has reported previously, council members are often texting on their cell phones or having private chats while residents are at the podium speaking.
“We want to hear what concerns residents have, we want to talk about how together we can make Santa Ana a better place,” said coalition president and downtown dentist Arturo Lomeli.
Speakers at the event, including residents and a representative of the non-profit Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, criticized council for, among other things, not publicly deliberating issues to be voted on at council meetings.
Instead, said resident and City Hall watcher Ben Grabriel, council members come with their minds already made up, and says the meetings are little more than scripted shows for the public.
“I think most of us know how they vote before they vote,” Grabriel said. “They [council members] turn off your microphones, you see them on their cell phones, they walk away then come back and cast a vote, and that should not be tolerated.”
Grabriel also criticized council for, he said, awarding city contract to friends, family and political donors — contentions that, he said, are backed by newspaper and grand jury reports. “We have to fight the disease that has unfortunately crept into our city,” Grabriel said. “I’m being blunt about that.”
Meeting attendees were also asked to form breakout groups and come up with lists of problems in the city they’d like to see addressed. Issues identified ranged from political concerns to the lack of park space and youth activities in the city.
Resident Pete Major, on his list, questioned the lack of term limits for the mayor. He also pointed out that council members represent city wards yet are elected at large. The ward’s residents, Major said, have no way to hold council members accountable.
“It’s kind of like saying we ought to elect senators at large,” Major said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”