City Council meetings that last until 1 a.m. may soon be a thing of the past.
Council will vote Tuesday night on a resolution that would shorten its often lengthy meetings by incentivizing members of the public to speak for one minute instead of two. Members of the public who address Council for one minute can speak at the beginning of the item, while those who use two minutes will speak after.
City staff wrote that the Jan. 26 Council retreat served as a model for the proposed changes to public comment. Public speakers could only speak for one minute at the retreat.
“Participants came prepared to share their comments in a succinct fashion and stayed within the allotted one-minute time limit,” staff wrote. “This allowed the meeting to progress in an efficient manner that allowed time for both the public, as well as the Council to deliberate on the matters before them.”
Council may change several other rules of order, including reducing the amount of time people can donate to a speaker from two minutes to one and requiring multiple applicants or appellants on the same administrative item to share 10 minutes to speak unless Council votes to add additional time.
In addition, if fifteen or more members of the public wish to speak on one agenda item, or if forty or more members of the public wish to speak on any combination of items, each speaker’s remarks on any item will be limited to one minute. The new rule would be called “Special Time Limits for Lengthy Meetings.”
“By creating a special time limit for lengthy meetings, Council would ensure that all members of the public who sign up have an opportunity to address the City Council but would also create a reasonable expectation of how long the wait would be to speak on an item,” staff wrote.
Staff is also recommending classifying appointments to the City Council as a special agenda item, like the City Manager’s report, proclamations and commendations.
City staff wrote that it recommended Council approve the changes because members of the public have expressed dissatisfaction with how long they have to wait to address Council. Councilmember Ted Winterer said those who wish to address Council sometimes wait for hours for previous speakers to finish.
More often than not, Winterer said, dozens of speakers on the same item all make similar points.
“If Council had to vote on what flavor of ice cream should be Santa Monica’s official ice cream flavor and you had 50 organized chocolate activists come down and they all want to speak for two minutes about how great chocolate is, you’re looking at two hours of testimony before you even hear from the vanilla side,” Winterer said. “More often than not, those 50 chocolate activists will all say the same thing for two minutes each.”
Winterer said he thinks coalitions of speakers should decide on several salient points they want to address and dedicate a corresponding number of people to speak on those points. Others who wish to support what they say could stand to support them rather than speaking, he said.
“It’s great there are items everyone is passionate about but the quality of public discourse diminishes after 15 speakers if everyone is becoming repetitive,” he said. “Public input is very important, and it’s a balancing act and how we arrive at that ability to respect and listen to everyone without making meetings unbearably long for the public and Council is something we’ll have to talk about on Tuesday night.”
Councilmember Kevin McKeown said he thinks the proposed rule changes would help Council hear from people who can’t stay late at meetings.
“Many times at long meetings we call the names of people who wanted to speak, and they have gone home. These tend to be the people we don’t usually hear from, while the Council regulars have pulled chits early on multiple items and taken their full time on each one,” McKeown said. “Giving the option to speak earlier to those willing to be brief and to the point should enable a broader representation of our community as part of City Council decision-making.”
Council will meet Tuesday, Feb. 26 at City Hall, 1685 Main Street at 6:30 p.m.