Saturday, May 18, 2024

Susan Shelley: The bizarre politics of Los Angeles’ bizarre hotel ballot measure

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In March, voters in the city of Los Angeles will be asked to decide whether to approve the “Responsible Hotel Ordinance,” a measure that would require hotel operators to report to the city, every day, the number of vacant rooms in their property so the city can send homeless people over to the hotels to stay in the rooms that night.

Seriously. That’s on the March 5 ballot.

Imagine the dismay of the people who work in the hotels if they have to manage that situation. Business travelers, tourists and visitors will be side-by-side in the corridors, elevators, lobby and breakfast room with people who have been relocated from a nearby tent encampment to enjoy the same accommodations, paid for by city taxpayers.

It’s not clear exactly where the money will come from, other than your pocket, but the ordinance states that the homeless guests will bring vouchers for payment at a “fair market rate,” and hotels will be prohibited by law from refusing the guests or the vouchers.

If you thought insurance companies were bailing out of California before, wait until they have to cover this.

No doubt people around the country and the world would have to wonder how even the sketchy members of the L.A. City Council could be so disconnected from reality that they would vote to put something like this on the ballot.

Allow me to translate California to the rest of the world. They didn’t have a choice.

California voters have the power of direct democracy, which is a good thing, but special interests can use the initiative process to write proposed ballot measures that are custom-tailored to serve their own purposes. That’s what happened here. Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel workers, collected signatures on this wild-eyed proposed initiative, perhaps to create leverage for the contract negotiations that are happening now. Unite Here Local 11 is on strike against the unionized hotels that have not yet agreed to its demands.

By August of last year, the union had collected enough signatures to qualify the Responsible Hotel Ordinance for the ballot. The City Council had only two choices: adopt the measure without an election, or send it to the ballot. The vote was 12-0 to send it as far away as possible. So it’s on the March 5 primary ballot in the City of Los Angeles. Hotels in other parts of L.A. County are not affected, except possibly by an unexpected boost of bookings from conventions and other events that are avoiding Los Angeles like the plague.

The story is getting stranger by the day. After two city council members participated in “civil disobedience” with the hotel workers’ union, blocking traffic and getting arrested, City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto sent a memo to city officials recommending that they refrain from showing up on the picket lines or otherwise taking part in labor disputes, because it could create a conflict of interest that requires them to recuse from future council votes. In the case of the hotel workers’ strike, the city has a contract with the downtown L.A. Grand hotel, a unionized property that has been leased for use as temporary homeless housing at a cost to taxpayers of almost $4,700 per month per room.

If the Responsible Hotel Ordinance passes, L.A. taxpayers may be billed at similar rates for every otherwise vacant hotel room at every hotel in Los Angeles, every night.

Earlier this month, a bargaining group representing hotel owners filed unfair labor practice charges against Unite Here Local 11 with the National Labor Relations Board. According to the complaint, the hotel workers’ union is demanding that the hotels support the Responsible Hotel Ordinance.

And there’s more.

The hotel owners say the union is also demanding a 7% tax on guests of unionized hotels, which a union official said could fund affordable housing for hotel workers.

Technically, unions can’t bargain with hotels for a tax increase. What they’re probably doing is trying to strongarm the hotels into backing, or not opposing, a new initiative for a tax increase. That would probably cross the line into an unfair labor practice.

Fortunately, voters can just say no. That’s the other power of direct democracy.

Write and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley

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