In the Doghouse

Councilmember Englander Ignores Requests to Discuss L.A. Alcohol Ad Ban

EnglanderDecember 14, 2012

It is regularly an uphill battle trying to reduce alcohol harm in our communities. If we want to make a difference, we have to be in it for the long run. For a year and a half, the Coalition to Ban Alcohol Ads on Public Property in Los Angeles has been organizing to pass a motion to ban alcohol ads on city-owned and controlled property. As research continues to find, youth exposure to alcohol advertising is strongly related to negative public health outcomes: youth start drinking earlier, consume more alcohol, and experience more alcohol-related harm.
Recently, the efforts of the coalition received validation from several nationally-respected research institutions. Along with Alcohol Justice, the UCLA Alcohol Research Center, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, RAND Corporation, and the director and health officer for the County of Los Angeles submitted letters to Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcón, the legislative sponsor of the motion, outlining why advertising alcohol on city property is a bad idea. All of the letters supported an alcohol advertising ban on public property in L.A.
If there is community support for the campaign, and research demonstrates that alcohol ads on public property contribute to underage drinking, then what has blocked the motion from moving forward? Answer: City Councilmember and Public Safety Committee Chair Mitchell Englander.
Since the motion was introduced into the Public Safety Committee in August 2011, Coalition members have requested to meet with Councilmember Englander seven times. Hundreds of community members have signed petitions and sent letters to his office regarding the motion, yet he has not responded to the requests. Other Public Safety Committee members have been more receptive to meeting requests, but those committee members have expressed that only the chair of the committee can move the motion forward.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has made public that the lobbying firm Englander, Knabe & Allen recently began representing JC Decaux North America, the only company with city contracts that allow alcohol advertising. The founding associate of the firm is a family member of Councilmember Englander. Coalition members have asked for an investigation to clarify if the relationship between Councilmember Englander and the lobbying firm Englander, Knabe & Allen constitutes a conflict of interest with regard to the motion.
At a press conference two weeks ago the Coalition took the opportunity to air questions about Councilmember Englander's potential conflict of interest, for failing to move the motion to ban alcohol ads on city owned and controlled property out of committee. When Coalition members also confronted Englander after that day's City Council meeting, he stated that he would not meet with the coalition because they made a potential conflict of interest public. Coalition members told Englander that he has ignored their requests for 16 months and counting, and that they weren't surprised at his pronouncement that he would not meet with them. Coalition members also made it clear that all they wanted was an investigation into a possible conflict of interest.
The concerns of the coalition are not without reason. As the Public Safety Committee Chair, Councilmember Englander can agendize a hearing or table a motion at will and stop it from being heard by the City Council. The French owned company JC Decaux advertises alcohol on city property to make profits and, as  a consequence, youth in the city are bombarded with ads promoting alcohol, while taxpayers pay for the resulting alcohol-related harm. If a member of Englander's family were to lose money as a result of the motion being passed (or even heard in committee), and in his position as committee chair Englander can ensure that the motion is not heard, that could be construed as a conflict of interest.
In this uphill battle, the Coalition to Ban Alcohol Ads on Public Property in Los Angeles is determined to fight the influence of special interest groups and see that public health and safety rule the day. What will Councilmember Englander do? Meet with Coalition members who have requested to speak with him? Agendize and allow a hearing for the motion to ban alcohol ads on city property? Or will he continue to deny meeting requests and committee chair responsibilities?