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When Santa Ana City Council voted to settle a lawsuit last week they did so before the public was allowed to comment, and, as a result, probably violated the state’s open meeting law known as the Brown Act, said Voice of OC’s open government consultant Terry Francke.
Council took the vote unusually quickly to accommodate Councilman Sal Tinajero, who had to leave for another engagement. The reason that the vote had to happen before Tinajero left is because three other council members recused themselves from the vote due to conflicts of interest and without Tinajero there wouldn’t have been a quorum.
In Santa Ana, members of the public usually fill out speaker cards and wait to be called when their agenda item comes before council. The law doesn’t require speaker cards or a scheduled time for public comment — only that members of the public be acknowledged and allowed to speak if they approach the dais, Francke said.
But Francke said if City Council did not follow its own usual rules of decorum, residents might have been under the impressions that they couldn’t offer up public comments.
“If the custom is to call for public comment, and they rush through without even doing that, then there is a serious problem,” Francke said.
This isn’t the first time this council has had issues with the public comment requirements..
Last year, Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez cut short a speaker during public comments, a violation of the law, Francke said at the time.
The lawsuit, filed by the Friends of the Lacy Historic Neighborhood, had frozen demolition of homes necessary to make way for the Station District housing project, a mixed residential development of rental and for sale homes.
Now that the lawsuit is settled, development can move forward, and Councilwoman Michele Martinez said the city hopes to break ground on the project by late spring.