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Irvine City Council members opted to continue their current agenda setting policy in a 4-1 vote Tuesday night despite overwhelming opposition from the public, which stood almost unanimously against the issue.
The policy, which was first adopted in 2019 to continue through the end of this year, limits individual council members’ abilities to set the agenda, requiring at least two members on the dais support an item before it is discussed by the panel. The mayor is not restrained by this policy, and can agendize items at will.
The rule originally came under intense fire when it was adopted by the council last year and again last month, when the body was set to vote on the item but decided to push it until the new council members were seated — following the November election — at the Dec. 8 meeting.
Tuesday’s vote removed an end date from the policy, making it permanent. The council could change the rules back in the future, according to City Attorney Jeff Melching, who said that because it is not enacted as an ordinance it would only take a majority vote by the body to remove the policy.
Mayor Farrah Khan, who proposed the extension along with Councilman Anthony Kuo, said the item had actually helped her get to know fellow council members better.
“I really feel this council does better when it’s able to work together,” Khan said. “At the end of the day, if a council member is unable to get a second, they’re always able to bring the item forward during announcements to get it on the agenda.”
Said Kuo: “This was a policy we instituted well over a year ago; it lets the council focus on business where there’s consensus.”
The vast majority of public commenters stood against the item, saying it was an effort to silence council members in the political minority and the voters who put them into office.
Some commenters also said they felt the restrictions violated the Brown Act, California’s chief law requiring open meetings, by forcing council members to discuss items out of the public spotlight.
Melching disputed that claim, saying that as long as the council was only discussing agendizing the item and not how they would vote during discussion, it was still legal, and that the Brown Act only stopped council members from attempting to build a consensus outside the meeting.
Many commenters also specifically appealed to newly-elected council members Tammy Kim and Larry Agran, who took their seats on the dais earlier in the afternoon, with nearly every commenter asking them to reject the policy as the new voices on the panel.
In the end, it was a 50/50 split between the freshmen.
Agran, the only council member to stand against the item, pointed out that for much of the city’s history there had never been an agenda setting policy like this one until last year and called it an “unwise rule.”
“I think that process served the city well for 48 years,” Agran said. “It suggests to me a way of excluding debate and discussion, even introduction on items that may be only of interest to one council member or one council member and the 30 or 40 or 50 thousand people who voted for him or her. This doesn’t make sense to me.”
Kim said that while she was initially skeptical of the policy when it was introduced in 2019, a review of the last year’s council agendas showed it was a productive choice.
“To many residents’ point, we talk about how we’ve done things for the past 45, 48, 50 years when we had 10,000 residents,” Kim said. “We have to start now thinking about the future and how we approach the future.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.