Anaheim City Council members and OC Supervisors won’t have to hear from more residents by listening to their remote public comments after Gov. Gavin Newsom decided a proposed law was too burdensome on large public agencies.
Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 339 Thursday evening, which would’ve mandated cities and counties with more than 250,000 people in their jurisdictions to open up for telephone or internet-based public comments.
In his veto statement, the Governor said the population threshold of the bill could create confusion.
“While I appreciate the author’s intent to increase transparency and public participation in certain local government meetings, this bill would set a precedent of tying public access requirements to the population of jurisdictions. This patchwork approach may lead to public confusion,” Newsom said in the Thursday statement.
David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the bill would’ve given people increased access to their elected officials — especially to residents who have work and families to juggle when they physically go to meetings.
He also said the bill was changed as it made its way through the state legislature.
“The bill applied much more broadly,” Snyder said in a Wednesday phone interview. “I know it would’ve applied to more than just jurisdictions of 250,000 or more. It got whittled down a little bit during the course of the legislative session. But we support the bill in its final form because we think the ability of residents to access their governments is crucial.”
Newsom said the bill would have cost taxpayers money.
“Further, AB 339 limits flexibility and increases costs for the affected local jurisdictions trying to manage their meetings,” he said.
But Snyder said it’s a cost effective way to bring residents into the fold.
“This is a low cost, low hassle way for government agencies to open up the tent to a wider range of people,” he said.
Newsom also said the bill would’ve required in-person participation for city councils and county supervisors who serve more than 250,000 residents in their jurisdictions — causing a safety concern during the pandemic.
Nearly all Southern California cities and counties this bill would have applied to are already holding in-person meetings — including OC Supervisors.
Anaheim, Irvine and Santa Ana all have in-person council meetings, too.
But, Irvine and Santa Ana have already been taking phone-in public comments during their council meetings — along with a host of smaller cities the bill wouldn’t have applied to.
Huntington Beach is allowing both in-person and remote public comments at their city council meetings. People who physically go to the meeting chambers are allowed to speak first, then the city clerk calls on people who phone into the meeting or wish to speak on Zoom.
In the Santa Ana Unified School District — one of the largest districts in the county — parents can call into school board meetings to make comments or speak in-person.
Laguna Beach, which only has roughly 23,000 residents, also takes phone-in comments.
In Anaheim, city council members decided to sell Angel Stadium and the roughly 150 acres it sits on for $150 million last September — all without public comment on the issue because the council chambers were still closed at that time and council members conducted online meetings.
Instead, city officials told residents to email in their comments on city matters.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu decided to reopen the council chambers and call council members back to the dais in January, when COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations were still high from the Winter wave.
The city requires people to go to the chambers in order to get their voices heard.
Now, Anaheim is facing a lawsuit from a resident group, alleging city councilmembers broke state transparency law when they voted to sell the stadium without much public discussion. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the sale and have council members redo the entire process in public.
On the other hand, OC Supervisors never stopped taking public comment after COVID-19 hit — although people had to comment from a separate meeting room, divided by a glass window, during much of the pandemic.
Chairman Andrew Do often limits people’s speaking time depending on how many residents show up.
Both Anaheim and OC Supervisors have resisted calls from their respective colleagues to roll out a remote public comment system for residents.
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