At tonight’s meeting of the City Council, they are expected to vote on rule changes to affirm the city’s commitment to expanded public comment that will allow them to continue to accept public virtually and over-the-phone in addition to in-person and written comments.
While many cities throughout California have lifted 2020 rules that allowed for virtual public comment, and the City Council of the metropolis to the east has been openly scornful of attempts to require that cities take public comment without people schlepping to public meetings.
In February of this year, the Council allowed the rules allowing remote public comment to sunset with the changes in state law going into effect. However, after a public outcry, the Council asked staff for options on re-allowing this type of comment. A temporary system was put in place for the budget hearings and the bi-annual budget included funding to make that system permanent with increased staff and technological costs.
While increasing the ways that the public can give comment to political leaders and decision makers; adding virtual options is not a magic bullet that assures that Councils will hear from a more diverse group of constituents. In our first What’s Next Podcast, Jesse Zwick outlines the problem with allowing only in-person public comment and why the solution is more complicated than just allowing virtual comment.
The Council is not considering returning to virtual meetings, just to allow a return to accepting three types of public comment.
“You’re a caregiver to a child, but you could still zoom in, perhaps, or to an elderly person or disabled; this would open more doors,” Zwick said of virtual meetings at the time.
“But the interesting thing, and the vexing thing, is that they find that these online zoom meetings are equally bad, and equally unrepresentative of the community as a whole. And as a public official, who, again, is very interested in engaging the community and especially engaging the community around issues around housing. It’s a huge challenge.”
For more on some of the other ways the council could increase the diversity of public comment, check out the What’s Next Podcast with Zwick.