Long Beach to Allow Live Public Comments by Phone at City Council Meetings

13 Jun

The Long Beach City Council has faced past criticism for what some consider the Council’s lack of transparency, even before the pandemic.  After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, to some, it was only further evidence, the Long Beach City Council used the pandemic to further its lack of transparency.

James Suazo, a member of the Long Beach Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, in April, said, “There has often been a pattern in my opinion with the Long Beach City Council about ways that public comment…could be stifled or limited in some way and we’ve seen this with efforts to shift around public comment before actual Council discussion items on critical or controversial issues or we’ve seen it in efforts the City Council has done to streamline meetings and say let’s just limit public comment overall so we can get through the meeting and not be here so late.  So, we’re seeing… now the excuse of…the coronavirus pandemic as a way to justify this limiting of public comment, not just for the media and to have control over that and the narrative, but to also limit the critical voices that are needed in a democracy more than ever right now.”

“I think that when you consider the pattern the city has followed to try to limit public comment and you see, we see, the available technology that is out there that other municipalities even smaller that Long Beach are using that actually engage people, that actually allow for meaning dialogue to facilitate processes.  There is no reason or excuse why we are using a basic teleconference service that drops and limits people’s from engaging and for a city of our size, there is no reason we should be limiting ourselves to this kind of process. So, my only conclusion that I can draw from that is that it is intentional.”

However, even before the coronavirus hit, the Council faced criticism when new rules for public comment began in August 2019.

Jason Ruiz, in his Sept. 11, 2019 story for the Long Beach Post, quoted East Long Beach resident Corliss Lee, who said, “Their idea about streamlining…they’re streamlining for who? (T)hey’re streamlining for themselves.  They blabber on endlessly up there and yet they don’t want to hear from the public.”

Also, the Long Beach Post, Aug. 12, 2019, quoted the Long Beach Reform Coalition.  It said, “Members of the public often watch the proceedings seated in the chamber and find themselves moved, in the moment, by what they see and hear, to queue up and have their say.  The loss of this long-standing civic right will represent the further eroding of the democratic process in Long Beach.”

This brings us to now.

City Clerk Monique De La Garza announced in a press release of June 9, beginning Tuesday, June 16, the Long Beach City Council will allow on agenda items live public comments by phone at its meetings.

Up to 20 people will be allowed to speak.  If nine or less, wish to speak, each person will have three minutes.  With the existing rules, if there are 10 to 20 people, who wish to speak, each speaker after the ninth speaker will have 90 seconds to speak.

“Telephonic comments will also be allowed for the first 10 speakers, up to three minutes each, who sign up (with the City Clerk) for non-agenda items,” according to the press release.

James Suazo, after the press release was issued, said, “The city clerk’s press release about allowing public comment by telephone is a great first steps (sic) towards restoring basic democracy at city council meetings during the pandemic.”

People, wishing more information or wish to sign up for the June 16 meeting, may visit City Clerk website at www.longbeach.gov/cityclerk.

People wishing to continue using eComment option, may do so by clicking here, http://longbeach.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.  Written comments may also be submitted by email to cityclerk@longbeach.gov.

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