Public returns to San Diego City Council meetings April 11 after 2-year absence

San Diego will allow members of the public to continue to personally attend City Council meetings on April 11, just two years after all of the city’s meetings were taken online due to the pandemic.

From January, council members and city staff were able to attend council meetings in person. But members of the public were forced to continue using Zoom and phone calls to participate.

San Diego was the last big city in California without personal attendance at council meetings. Members of the public will continue to be able to participate via Zoom and over the phone – options that are not allowed before the pandemic.

“The people of San Diego deserve to have direct access to their city government, and providing personal and online access to City Council meetings is one of the best ways to achieve this,” said Council President Sean Elo-Rivera. who has the last word on such decisions. . “I look forward to the public returning to City Hall as we continue to work to create a more transparent, more accessible democracy.”

It was not clear on Friday whether the resumption of in-person attendance at the meetings would be extended to board committee meetings or whether it would be limited to board plenary sessions.

A spokesman for Elo-Rivera said Friday that he could not answer that question. From January, council members and city staff are allowed to attend some committee meetings, but not others.

Neighborhood leader Paul Kreuger said San Diego took a long time to allow the public to come face to face with its elected leaders. But he praised Elo-Rivera for finally making the change.

“Only when we are face to face do we know if they are listening to our concerns,” said Kreuger, a Talmadge resident and member of the Neighbors for a Better San Diego. “In Zoom meetings, we have no idea if they are even paying attention. And they can not even see our faces – they can only hear our voices.”

Jonathan Freeman, leader of a pedestrian defense team called Safe Walkways, greeted the shift. But he also said it was vital that in-person attendance be extended to committee meetings as soon as possible.

“This is great news – people can look their representatives in the eye and let them see how they feel,” Freeman said. “When you have a public comment on Zoom, you can only comment by voice and not by video.”

Freeman said, however, that committee meetings are often the best opportunity for community leaders and critics to successfully change legislation or policies. When something reaches the plenary of the council, it may be too late, he said.

“The key issues usually come to the committee first, when they are still ongoing, so then you have to be personal,” he said. “On the committee, you can make big changes and maybe even get them to send the idea back to the staff and start over.”

Kreiger said he hopes the city will also revive a pre-pandemic policy that allows speakers to donate their unused airtime to other speakers who share their views.

Before the pandemic, anyone attending a meeting in person could dedicate their time to another speaker.

When the city switched to Zoom meetings, this policy was abolished because no one could attend in person, so no one was eligible for time donation.

Some critics say attending a Zoom board meeting should make it possible for people to offer time, but city officials have not backed down. It is not clear whether the resumption of face-to-face meetings will mean a revival of the time donation option.

“It allows organized groups that feel strongly about a particular issue to put forward their arguments in a convincing presentation,” Krueger said. “It also helps the council to hear a whole perspective, instead of splitting that perspective between many non-consecutive speakers.”

Kreuger said that personal meetings are reminiscent of the founding of our nation.

“Politics gets better when people can see and hear each other,” he said.

Since it was only Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic, San Diego tried a hybrid approach, with staff and some board members allowed to attend in person for a short time in mid-2020. But officials only went to virtual meetings in fall of 2020 and did not pursue any personal involvement until January.

The recent changes in the city come in the wake of a new state law, Assembly Bill 361, which makes it difficult for local governments to continue meeting only online.

In March 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom allowed cities to violate state laws governing open meetings during the pandemic by conducting online meetings.

The new law allows this to continue, but requires cities to evaluate new conditions every 30 days and possibly return to personal participation. In order to limit meetings to the Internet only, a government agency must determine that there are “imminent risks to the health or safety of participants”.

The council is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on Elo-Rivera’s plan to resume public participation. A staff report says the change will take place unless there are “unforeseen circumstances”.

Public returns to San Diego City Council meetings April 11 after 2-year absence Source link Public returns to San Diego City Council meetings April 11 after 2-year absence

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