Two City Councils Consider Trimming Public Comment

Both Garden Grove and Newport Beach considered proposals this week to reduce the time allowed for public comment at city council meetings from five minutes to three minutes per speaker.

Newport Beach City Council members voted 4-3 Tuesday to cut time limits for public comment, with council members Nancy Gardner, Tony Petros and Leslie Daigle dissenting.

Meanwhile, Garden Grove City Council members tabled a discussion to impose similar limits.

Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry argued that giving speakers more time only encourages more repetition, pointing to the snaking lines of people who waited to comment on a proposed project at Banning Ranch during a hearing last year.

“We found that nearly all the speakers came in well under three minutes, and in fact, they all started reading from a serialized letter with the extra time all of them had,” said Curry.

Members of both councils cite other cities as evidence that the three-minute limit is common practice and fair. According to a Garden Grove staff report, 65 percent of cities in the Orange County and 75 percent of cities statewide allot three minutes per speaker.

The resolutions follow a 4-1 vote last month by the Board of Supervisors, with Supevisor Janet Nguyen dissenting, to limit the time allowed for public comment at each meeting to a total of nine minutes per speaker. The new limit is aimed at resident Michael Klubnikin, who has frequently used public comment to discuss a personal dispute regarding a court seizing several homes owned by his mother.

Newport Beach resident Jim Mosher said maintaining the five-minute time limit would not be burdensome.

“I’d like to point out … you are now officially paid something like $33,000 including benefits per year to attend 22 meetings,” said Mosher at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think for that amount of money, it’s not unreasonable to expect you to be willing to sit up there for a few minutes to listen to us.”

In Garden Grove, several speakers criticized that city’s proposal.

“You’re going to be limit the public input toward our city’s future,” said longtime resident Josh Mcintosh. “We’re already subjected to a one-way dialogue where the council often refuses to respond or acknowledge the people’s voice.”

Aside from commentary by Mayor Bruce Broadwater, who also cited repetitious and irrelevant comments as reasons to impose restrictions, there was little comment from other members of the council.

“We have certain people that like to use [public comment] to run their campaigns with. They come back and talk every week,” said Broadwater.

In addition to limiting individual speakers' time, the Garden Grove resolution would give the council discretion to limit the total amount of time allotted for public comment, limit the total time each speaker can comment and request that members of the public select a representative when many want to speak to the same subject.

After the meeting, Broadwater declined to say why he moved to postpone the proposal, which he instructed staff to write.

Contact the writer at thyanhvo@gmail.com.

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