As LA City Hall Reopens, Virtual Public Comment At Meetings Has Gone. Not Everyone Is Happy About That
After being closed for more than two years due to COVID-19, Los Angeles City Hall has reopened to the public.
However, the reopening has brought mixed feelings to those wanting to participate in civic engagement.
While some visitors were excited to talk to City Council members face-to-face, several others believe the decision to strip away virtual public comment is a big problem.
"People have jobs; they can't just come in here to do one public comment when people already got used to being able to do that over the phone, at their work or at their home where they're safe," said Sergio Vargas, the lead organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.
Miki Jackson, who works on public policy and advocacy for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, says it was ridiculous that people could go to a bar but couldn't come to city council — where everything could be regulated. She was also not happy that the city council discontinued the virtual public comment.
"This is a huge city; it's really hard to come from certain parts of the city," Jackson said. "It's gotten more expensive to travel to make the way down here. There's people with physical disabilities, people with a job who could take a break and be on the phone, but they can't come over here."
A lot else has changed with the reopening. Visitors have to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test. Masks are required.
Reporters are no longer allowed in the "horseshoe" where council members sit during meetings, and gone are the days when a visitor could walk into a city councilmember’s office. Now, an appointment is needed to see a local representative.
"It's just silly," Jackson said. "We can go anywhere but see the people we pay to do our work. And it makes it easier for them to operate in a bubble, a cocoon [and] do anything they want to — not even have to hear from us 'inconvenient citizens.'
She says the new system allows some council members to close their doors "figuratively and literally."
"I'm sorry so many of our councilmembers are just not open, and not working with us in a more positive way...I know that not all of them are not happy about that, but too many of them, the majority, like it."