LA Strips Telephone Comment Option From Council Committee Meetings
A recent change at Los Angeles City Hall prohibits the public from commenting during City Council committee meetings remotely — under the new rules, feedback must be submitted through written comments or in-person.
What is a committee meeting?
There are about two dozen city council committees in Los Angeles focused on everything from the city’s budget to homelessness and animal control. These meetings are incubators for developing important policies before they reach the full council.
During the pandemic, public meetings from school boards to city councils streamed online and allowed people to comment virtually or by phone because of restrictions under Gov. Gavin Newson’s executive orders.
Jamie York, a Reseda resident who also serves on her local neighborhood council, said she loved the convenience and tuned into so many virtual public meetings it’d be hard to count them off-hand.
“I live far from City Hall,” York said. “In order to be able to go there, it's typically over an hour's time commitment each way just to be able to speak for, at most, a few minutes.”
Now that California's state of emergency is over, Los Angeles city council committee meetings are happening in person and not all of them are set up to allow telephonic comments, said Hugh Esten, director of communications for Council President Paul Krekorian.
Anthony Portantino, a state senator who represents Burbank, introduced Senate Bill 411 in February which seeks to expand access to virtual public meetings.
In an effort to provide similar comment access for all committees, Krekorian recently decided, in consultation with the committee chairs, to end the option for the public to call in. The change went into effect on April 10.
“We are required to provide equal access to all committee meetings,” Esten said. “We can't have some of them provide a form of access that the others don't provide.”
York said the Reseda Neighborhood Council plans to send a letter asking L.A. officials to restore the option to call in to committee meetings.
“We should be making it easier for people to participate in civics, not harder,” York said.
Los Angeles city council chambers, on the other hand, are set up to provide a live video stream and allow comments by phone. That means you can still call into regular council meetings to provide feedback — the new rule only applies to committee meetings.
Is this legal?
The Brown Act, first passed in 1953, guarantees the right for the public to comment on anything being considered by a legislative body. If the meeting is held in person, there’s no requirement to also provide an opportunity for people to comment in another format.
“Whatever the letter of the law might allow, it would certainly be in the public's best interest to provide remote comment options to maximize opportunities for public participation,” said David Loy, legal director for the First Amendment Coalition.
How to participate
Agendas and information about committee meetings are posted on the Los Angeles City Clerk’s website. People who want to make a public comment will need to show up in person or submit a written comment online.
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