Irvine City Council members on Tuesday are set to discuss removing many of the public transparency measures their predecessors installed, clearing the way to limit residents’ chances to speak at the meeting and hamstring other council members’ comments. 

It mirrors an approach taken by Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu in early 2019, where he limited public comment. He also limited his council colleagues’ speaking times

The biggest changes could be coming to the city’s timer for public commenters, who will be cut from three minutes on every item they wish to speak on down to three minutes for the entire meeting. 

That limit can also be reduced to as little as a minute and a half if there are more than 30 people who wish to speak during the entire meeting – meaning if someone wants to speak on multiple topics, they’d have less than a minute for each one. 

The only items that will still receive a separate three-minute speaking time are public hearings, but the more controversial items under the agenda as “council business,” will not. 

For years, the city has had one of the strongest open meeting policies in Orange County under the Sunshine Ordinance, which was introduced by former City Manager John Russo shortly after he arrived in 2018.

That ordinance required every city council agenda be released at least 12 days in advance, and that special meetings also require a five-day notice instead of the state’s typical limits of three days for regular meetings and one day for special meetings. 

The changes proposed by the council would eliminate the waiting period on special meetings, cut the agenda publishing time from 12 days to one week, and allow additional items to be added until three days before the meeting, which is the state’s minimum requirement. 

Council members originally tried to eliminate the Sunshine Ordinance altogether last October, in a memo written by Councilmembers Tammy Kim and Mike Carroll, who called it “well intentioned … but unwieldy in practice.” 

“They effectively require that the agenda for an upcoming City Council meeting be published only two days after the preceding City Council meeting has occurred,” Carroll said at the council’s October meeting, reading from his memo. “I don’t think that in practice they operate to help us run a 21st century city.” 

Public commenters showed up in force to protest the changes during that October meeting.

At a meeting last November, council members instead created a subcommittee made up of Mayor Farrah Khan and Carroll to study the issue and formulate a new policy. 

Under the new rules, council members will also be limited to five minute “rounds,” during discussion of items, and their speaking during general comments will be limited to three minutes total. 

Residents are also protesting the move this time, with one petition garnering over 500 signatures asking the council to leave the public comment policies alone.

A similar rule was put in place by Anaheim Mayor Sidhu shortly after he took office in 2019, and ended up meriting a complaint letter from the ACLU. 

[Read: ACLU Warns Anaheim Over Its Public Comment Structure] 

Council members and public commenters put up a fight when the policy was introduced, with Anaheim Councilman Jose Moreno saying it was an attack on public comment. 

“It’s a chilling effect, maybe that’s the desired outcome … the way it was introduced, without any real rationales given. It felt that in many ways the public was a nuisance to this City Council,” Moreno said after the Feb. 2019  meeting where the protocol was approved. 

The Irvine City Council is set to discuss the issue at their Tuesday night meeting, as the last item on the agenda. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada. 

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