Costa Mesa Could Make Repetitive Comments a Crime

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Speakers at public Costa Mesa City Council meetings who repeat themselves or what others before them have said could be ordered to stop talking and, conceivably, be charged with a misdemeanor if they refuse, according to a proposed change in speaker rules.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the change at its meeting Tuesday.

If approved, the new ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to engage in “disorderly behavior that actually disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of any city council meeting.”

Such conduct would include acts like throwing things, yelling, using profanity or obscene gestures, continuing to speak beyond the three minutes allotted to individual members of the public or trying to speak without the permission of the council’s presiding officer.

But No. 8 on the list of don’ts is: “Continuing to speak after being informed by the presiding officer that the comments are unduly repetitive of either prior comments from that speaker or comments by other speakers.”

The Costa Mesa action comes as legislation to give speakers at local government meetings more protection is nearing final passage in Sacramento.

That bill, AB 194 by Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose), would amend California’s open meeting law, known as the Brown Act, to clarify some of the public’s rights to speak during meetings.

Among other things, according to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, the bill expands current legal protections for public speakers.

It would bar city councils, boards of supervisors and other local agencies from “prohibiting public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions” of the local government body.

It’s not clear how the proposed Costa Mesa ordinance would mesh with the pending state law.

In addition, the Campos bill would address a growing statewide practice by some other local jurisdictions that limit public comment to just the beginning and end of meetings, a practice opponents call “corralling.”

The Campos bill, which cleared its final Senate committee last week and is likely to come up for a vote by the full Senate in August, would prohibit herding speakers into such groups.

The Costa Mesa City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m. To view the agenda, click here.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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