Westside COG – No Heat, No Light!

Westside Cog logoFew folks know that there is a Westside Council of Governments (COG), much less that it plays a role in coordinating and communicating policy. I’m pretty confident that many are aware that this venue brings together council members from Los Angeles, Culver City, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and of course Beverly Hills on a bi-monthly basis. I’m confident because at the last subcommittee meeting I attended, and now at the most recent COG board, there were ZERO stakeholders in the house.

Why the cold shoulder? The Westside COG scopes the big issues facing these cities. Indeed a look at the recent agenda suggests that homelessness, energy, sustainability, and transportation — all important regional issues – are on the COG agenda. These are the very same issues that have climbed to the top of the state and federal agendas too (not coincidentally).

I attended a recent board meeting as a stakeholder to understand how this body is representing the interests of the cycling public. Here is my report.

A Representative Body Not So Representative of the Public

Attending the Westside COG as a stakeholder is an odd experience because the feeling is of being almost literally a fly on the wall. Member governments’ representatives enjoy a nice buffet and sit around a big table while discussing issues (or sometimes text) , but there isn’t a place for guests.

That is, there isn’t a place for the public at the table in both the literal and metaphorical senses. For one thing, it’s not your buffet. Lunch aside though, there’s hardly a place in the meeting for the concerns of the public. The meeting is public, but the board takes public comment at the end of the meeting (not at the beginning as is usual practice). After every other piece of business is concluded (including the action items!), you’ll have your say, but by then a few of the members may have adjourned themselves.

Why is the COG Important?

I attended the Westside COG because I wanted to understand how local governments here address alternative transportation (and bike planning in particular). But I found that the COG really isn’t addressing it at the board level. For example, on the agenda were reports from the Sustainability and Transportation subcommittees and a review of the work programs drafted by the subcommittees.

But the reports really didn’t get a hearing; the board moved swiftly past those items. (The Board did dwell on homelessness – and that’s all to the good.) As for the work programs, both got the ‘receive and file’ treatment (no substantive discussion).

This was already familiar to me. I attended the previous month’s Sustainability subcommittee meeting, wherein subcommittee members gave awfully short shrift to the discussion of transportation alternatives. In fact, cycling wouldn’t have come up at all if a West Hollywood Council Member, Abbe Land, hadn’t raised it in the last ten minutes of the meeting. Then it was deferred to a later meeting.

For a bike advocate, there just isn’t much to chew on at these COG meetings evidently. Which means we have our work cut out for us.

We have to do a better job of getting our concerns recognized. We must make regular appearances at COG board and committee meetings – especially the Sustainability and Transportation subcommittees. We must remind COG members and member governments that these issues are inherently political, and that stakeholders need a more direct say in how they are considered in COG and beyond. And we must pay renewed attention to the Westside COG process itself.

This IS Political, Isn’t It?

Isn’t the COG part of the political process? It is a representative, taxpayer-funded membership body composed of city electeds and officials representing local governments that are themselves representative decisionmaking bodies Meetings are public, too, which gives stakeholders the opportunity to participate.Yet participation is not encouraged.

For example: should a member of the public want to verbally comment to the COG board on an action item, she will need to anticipate the agenda two months in advance. Because we can’t address members prior to the discussion, our comments will have to hang in the air until the next meeting.

The Westside COG is supposed to grapple with the difficult policy issues that affect most every stakeholder. Shouldn’ the public at large be able to address in this forum members of all the Westside local governments prior to their decisions?