LocationAlhambra , CA United States
The Alhambra City Council is considering major changes to how city meetings are conducted. These changes include limiting the amount of time a public speaker can address the Council from five minutes to three minutes and requiring people to submit speaker cards on specific items before the start of said item.
These changes were proposed by Councilmember David Mejia while the Council was considering other changes to procedures, during their meeting on Aug. 12. Mejia also suggested that public comment be limited to three minutes for each speaker to bring the Council and commissions more in line with the Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education, which has a three-minute speaker limit. He said that the mayor could add more time for a speaker if needed.
Mejia also suggested that speakers be required to turn their cards in before the start of their specific agenda item. He added that anybody who didn’t have a chance to turn in a speaker card could then speak during oral communications at the end of the meeting, when people are allowed to speak on any topic, whether it’s included on the agenda or not.
Current city public meeting rules allow people to turn in speaker cards before public comment on an agenda item has closed.
Councilmember Katherine Lee offered a motion to adopt Mejia’s amendment, along with rule changes already included in the City Council agenda. They include starting Council meetings at 6 p.m. instead of 5:30 p.m., and adopting a simplified set of parliamentary rules, known as Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, rather than the longer, more complicated Robert’s Rules of Order. Rosenberg’s Rules of Order are endorsed by the California League of Cities, and are included with the city staff report.
Vice Mayor Ross Maza seconded this motion, and the Council voted 4 to 1 to adopt the motion on Aug. 12, with Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler dissenting. The ordinance will go into effect in 40 days if it’s approved in its second reading at Monday night’s Council meeting.
Alhambra resident Michael Lawrence, also a member of the city’s Arts and Cultural Events Committee, spoke out against these changes during oral communications, asking why the Council thought it necessary to cut public speakers’ time. “If it’s a complex idea, how are you going to express that in three minutes?” he asked. “There’s going to be a lot of people up here who are mid-sentence and then they’re going to be dismissed from the podium.”
Prior to the vote, Lawrence and a few other members expressed concern over the timing of the rule changes, pointing out that they appear to coincide with Planning Commission discussions about some of the public comments made during the 801 E. Main St. hearings, a project the Commission eventually denied. Some commissioners thought that these comments veered into personal attacks on the commissioners.
Rosenberg’s Rules of Order includes language giving the meeting chair “the right to cut off discussion that’s too personal, too loud, or is too crude.”
“I think we make more positive progress from being polite and nice and trying to get our questions answered, so we can understand as the public, but I would hate to limit someone else from stating their opinion,” said Jennifer Ng, who was active in the campaign against the 801 E. Main St. development.
City Attorney Joseph Montes said that these changes had been discussed by the previous City Council before the election in 2018, but that Council opted to let the current Council consider the changes instead. The time change would allow the Council extra time to arrive at the meeting, and a shorter closed session would still be sufficient to get business done, according to Montes. Adopting Rosenberg’s Rules of Order would enable the City Council and commissions to learn a simpler set of parliamentary rules and bring consistency to how meetings are conducted across the board.
Montes also pointed out that Alhambra’s municipal code already has language allowing people who make “personal, impertinent or slanderous remarks” to be banned from Council meetings. This language would be changed to allow the presiding officer to warn a member of the public who is impeding the progress of the Council meeting, and to request this person’s removal if they persist in being disruptive.
Mayor Andrade-Stadler also said prior to the vote on Mejia’s amendment that it was important to let people express their opinions to the Council, even if what was expressed was personally uncomfortable.
Vice Mayor Maza told the Alhambra Source that he’s been approached by residents who wanted to speak at City Council meetings, but couldn’t stay to address the agenda items they wanted to present on, because of how long meetings sometimes ran. Lowering speaker time limits could allow more people to stay and speak, thus allowing more public participation.
Maza added that requiring people to turn in speaker cards before an agenda item comes up could lessen confusion for those who have to keep track of everybody who wants to speak, including the mayor and city clerk. He added that these proposed changes could still be fine-tuned, and encouraged people to attend Monday’s meeting and share their opinions.
Meeting procedures for surrounding cities vary. The city of Los Angeles generally limits public comment to one minute per speaker, and requires the submission of speaker cards prior to an agenda item being called. South Pasadena limits speakers to three minutes, as does San Gabriel. Monterey Park allows people to address agenda items for five minutes. If they so choose, people can address agenda items during general public comment at the beginning of City Council meetings in Monterey Park, but wouldn’t be able to speak again on these same items.
Staff will also present three proposals received for an affordable housing project in downtown Alhambra at Monday’s meeting, and the City Council will choose which proposal to go with. Staff will also present several options for creating more opportunities for affordable housing, including inclusionary housing and accessory dwelling units.
Read the Alhambra City Council agenda here.