|(May 13, 2019, 12:45 p.m.) -- LB residents will see on Tuesday May 14 which LB Councilmember(s), if any, will preserve, protect and defend the public's rights to speak and be heard when City Hall tries to do things that could seriously impact neighborhoods and taxpayers...or whether Councilmembers will instead justify further reducing (and in some cases erasing entirely) the public's rights to speak and be heard at LB City Council meetings..
Some of our competitors have portrayed this as City Hall's helpful way of "shortening" Council meetings, and in fairness that may have been Councilman Daryl Supernaw's intent when he started the process last year. But in our opinion, that process has since developed malignant cells that need to be excised.
LBREPORT.com has reported all of the proposals in wonky detail here and summarizes what we consider the three most damaging among them below. They are Items 3, 4 and 8.
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Item 3 is conspicuously disrespectful in targeting public testimony on items that taxpayers=/residents consider MOST important (visible by drawing large crowds.) The proposed change would make legally automatic Mayor Garcia's invented policy on some recent items (imposed without current Council objection) to cut public speakers to 90 seconds each after ten speakers have spoken for three minutes each. That's bad enough, but LB's current Council has also displayed a willingness to be even less tolerant of public testimony; on May 7, the Council prodded Mayor Garcia to cut all public testimony on one item to 90 seconds (which he did.) They got away with that because the minimal standards of CA's Brown [open meetings] Act don't specify any particular amount of time for public testimony on agenda items...and the proposed change would make this automatic on major items.
Item 4 would allow city staff (and presumably the Mayor and Councilmembers) to pile more items onto the Council's "consent calendar" -- a list of agenda items that will receive NO Council discussion unless a Councilmember(s) requests it. It's currently limited to what are usually (although not always) routine matters, but this item would expand the no-discussion consent calendar to broadly include "grant applications, contracts, and receive and file reports." This could allow the Council to bypass meaningful taxpayer/public oversight and objections to multiple costly and impactful items because LB's current rules prevent the public from speaking for more than three minutes on ALL of the consent calendar items combined.
In addition, if combined with Item 3, newly expanded consent calendar items that draw a large crowd, the public's time to speak to ALL of the consent calendar items combined could be 90 seconds (or potentially less.)
And there's more. By expanding items for the consent calendar, Councilmembers could avoid separately recorded votes on impactful items (that electeds may want to avoid). That's because under Mayor Foster, a now-former Council made an ordinance change that lets only Councilmembers (and not the public) "pull" items for separately voted action. (The public lost that right then, much as the public could lose additional rights now.)
Item 8 could significantly reduce, or depending on the Council's coming actions could even potentially prevent, the public's current right to address the Council on major items. It proposes to use Council Committees -- three-members chosen by the Mayor, as few as two members present to conduct Committee meetings -- for what it calls "issues on which significant public comment is expected." This marks the first time in our memory that City Hall officialdom has publicly proposed to exploit a loophole in CA's Brown (open meetings) Act to significantly limit public testimony at Council meetings on major items. We apologize the need for wonky details in explaining this.
Within the Brown Act, CA Gov't Code section 54954.3 (a) provides that every agenda for regular Council meetings "shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item." But it also goes on to state: "However, the agenda need not provide an opportunity for members of the public to address the legislative body on any item that has already been considered by a committee, composed exclusively of members of the legislative body, at a public meeting wherein all interested members of the public were afforded the opportunity to address the committee on the item, before or during the committee’s consideration of the item, unless the item has been substantially changed since the committee heard the item, as determined by the legislative body."
What would that mean? If some City Hall geniuses propose to allow an especially damaging neighborhood and/or taxpayer impacting policy (anything from zoning to density to Airport flights to rent control to taxes), the Mayor could and/or Council could simply send it to a Council Committee, where you could only address three or as few as two Councilmembers when they choose to meet (which is frequently during workday hours when you and your neighbors may not be able to attend. Whether or not you can attend and speak to them, if the Committee simply rubberstamps what they've been sent and doesn't change it "significantly," this change would prevent you and your neighbors from speaking for (as now proposed) more than 90 seconds or 60 seconds when the item comes to the full Council meeting. And yes, as we read the Brown Act it does allow the Council to completely prevent the public from speaking to the item at the City Council meeting if the Garcia-named Committee has simply approved it.
It's true that the Council can already do this, but until now. no elected official has publicly proposed to reduce public testimony in this way. Now, city staff has effectively provided the Mayor and Council with a rationale for doing so.
As a final insult, the video feed of Council Committee meetings doesn't show the person speaking (only their back from a distance using the fixed camera at the back of the Council Chamber.) They also don't display Power Point slides shown by city staff. To show these items would require additional staffing -- presumably at additional taxpayer cost to operate the main Council Chamber's cameras -- meaning the public would end up paying more for a change that would reduce the public's speaking rights. (We don't yet know the technical capabilities of the soon-to-debut new "Bob Foster Civic Chambers" near the gluttonous Garcia-Mungo million dollar media wall (Garcia approved, his "Budget Oversight Committee" chair Mungo made the motion, they own it.)
We don't yet know what Councilman Supernaw thinks of these proposals. All he did publicly was agendize an Oct. 23, 2018 request to seek so-called "best practices" to curtail lengthy Council meetings by "streamlining" them to increase "efficiency." But he and his Council colleagues have known about city staff's proposed actions since March 1, To our knowledge, neither Supernaw nor any Councilmember have publicly indicated their opposition to items 3, 4 and 8.
If the Council approves items 3, 4 and 8, we believe the public will figure out that it has less to do with "efficiency" than telling taxpayers to the extent legally possible to shut up, sit down and go away. We do believe the Mayor/Council record on this is an appropriate issue for voters to consider in 2020 elections when Councilmembers Pearce, Supernaw, Andrews, Austin can seek re-election. We also believe it's an appropriate issue -- with vote by mail ballots circulating right now -- as Councilwoman Gonzalez asks LB voters to send her to Sacramento where she'd control things like the Brown Act.
LBREPORT.com believes the appropriate May 14 Council motion should be to remove items 3, 4 and 8 from the list of city staff proposed actions.
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