Steven Choi and Free Speech

Steven Choi made the right call at last night’s city council meeting, but his opponents will easily twist this into “opposing free speech.”


At last night’s City Council meeting PR maven Alan Ziegaus of San Diego’s Southwest Strategies attempted to astroturf the Public Comments in an unusually innovative way.   As part of his PR contract with Yehudi Gaffen‘s Gafcon, he wanted to screen his nine-minute PR video. To do so he brought employees  — I counted eight — to file public comment cards.   Each one, in turn, was supposed to, as their public comment, screen the next piece of the video.

The first Gafcon employee spoke, and showing the usual Gafcon  grasp of reality, made a key statement [1] that had already been directly contradicted in the Auditor’s Update [2]. Next Alan Ziegaus got up and requested the video be played as his public comment. No problem there — the video ran for three minutes. Next up was a Southwest Strategies employee (or perhaps a contractor) who requested the next three minutes of the video as her public comment.

And that’s when the fun began.  Mayor Steven Choi  ruled that the speaker had three  minutes to say whatever she wanted, but that particular video was part of Alan’s public comment and thus had already gotten its three minutes of public time.

Larry Agran objected that Choi was trying to “regulate the content” of the Public Commenter’s speech.  A thirty minute back-and-fort ensued, with motions, amendments, and shocking lack of comprehension by Larry Agran about the plain language of the relevant city ordinance. [3]

In the end, Choi’s ruling prevailed, the woman got say whatever she pleased [5] for three minutes, but not show that particular video.  Subsequently, the next handful of  Public Commenters, all apparently Southwest Strategies plants, withdrew their time.

No public commenter’s time was curtailed.  Indeed, a half-dozen other public commenters used their three minutes to bash away at Steven on everything from  yard signs to the Five Points deal.  YAY for Democracy!

Steven made a difficult call, one which I applaud. However, for my own self-interest, I wished he had ruled differently.  As I said during my three minutes of public comment:

I wish [Larry Agran’s motion to allow the entire video] had passed.

My friends have been looking for a venue for our movie night. Had the motion passed, we would have used the next city council public comment period to watch Top Gun with Tom Cruise in its entirety.


Dan C may bleat that “Steven Choi hates free speech” or whatever.  But consider the possibilities:  what movie would you want to screen at your next city council meeting?

[1] “Gafcon is not the subject of an investigation”

[2] Gafcon is at the very heart of the Sam Allevato conflict-of-interest investigation. More on that later.

[3] Even after explication by city staff, Larry kept insisting  that public comment speakers are entitle to three minutes, and the mayor may extend that.  FALSE.  We public speakers are entitled t”Up to three minutes,” but the mayor may reduce that at his/her discretion.  Indeed,  the Comment Period typically  reduced to two minutes when there are more then 10 Public Commenters,

[4] She recited an unusually boring written statement defending Gafcon.

About Tyler in Irvine

Twenty Year Irvine Resident. Native Texan and proud Longhorn. Pro-Choice Ron Paul supporter. "Do I contradict myself? ... then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." - Walt Whitman