Long Beach, News

Long Beach City Council puts limits on public comment

The Long Beach City Council unanimously approved legislation that will change the comment duration the for council and public, Tuesday.  

City staff found that in 2018, more than one-third of all council meetings ended at 11:30 p.m. or later. The council has looked for strategies to decrease meeting times and to allow the public time to speak. 

The new legislation for public comment only allows three speakers to speak on each agenda item for a total of three minutes. The time has also been limited to 90 seconds per public commenter if there are more than 10 speakers for any agenda item. 

Many were unsatisfied with three minutes and felt the council should reconsider streamlining public comments. 

“We should go back to what has worked well for so long. There should be no limitations on the time limit and three minutes should be enough,” Larry Goodhue, a public speaker said. “But don’t mess with that. If you don’t like that, you should consider another occupation.” 

The change will also require speaker cards to be submitted for each item before the meeting starts. Assistant City Manager Tom Modica informed the council that they have already made this a requirement for all meetings inside the new Bob Foster Civic Center. 

The amount of time that the council can speak about agenda items has been limited to five minutes. 

Though the council supported the legislation, many people said the change would violate the Brown Act, an act for public policy transparency. 

“I think there have been several violations in the Brown Act,” Anne Cantrell said during public comment. “You need to start looking at the description of what this ordinance is. It’s very vague and no-one reading this would know all the changes that you are making tonight.” 

The Attorney General said that up to five minutes per speaker is reasonable and that it is not a violation to limit public comment to three minutes.

The newly drafted legislation was presented at the council’s Sept. 3 meeting. However, the decision was moved to the council’s Tuesday meeting to allow for further discussion of the legislation.  

Since its first discussion, the council has also received and filed letters of complaint from members of the public on the issue who feel 90 seconds are not adequate time. 

“I feel that it is very undemocratic and un-environmental to make people submit their name in writing to speak on agenda items,” Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee member Mauna Eichner said. “It gives more flexibility to allow for latecomers and spontaneous speaking during the agenda item.” 

Although the public expressed their opposition towards streamlining public comments, the council approved the changes. However, Councilman Rex Richardson told the audience along with city staff that this update is not set in stone and should be re-evaluated in the future.

“I am supportive in general of doing this, but I want to say that I consider this still a test run. We need to be open to making adjustments as needed,” Richardson said. “I know it’s a big shift, and I want to make sure that we are not diminishing folks participation in the meetings.” 

The next city council meeting will be held Sept. 17 at 5 p.m. at Long Beach City Hall.

This article previously reported inaccurate information, it was updated Sept. 14, at 12:36 a.m.

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