Editor's Note: Read our updated article here from the City Council meeting, where councilmembers offered more insight into the intentions of the guidelines.
Do you think the City needs stricter guidelines for audience reaction and participation when conducting controversial public hearings in which large groups of residents wish to speak?
Apparently, Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre thinks so - and that is why she asked City Council members to form an ad-hoc committee recently to draft a set of rules and guidelines for all City commissions, boards and councils to follow.
As recent City meetings have proven, many feel rules can be inconsistent regarding how audiences are allowed to react to speakers' comments when something controversial is discussed.
In some meetings, vocal public reactions such as clapping, cheering or gasping are allowed, as witnessed in the Redwood City School District's recent Board of Trustees meeting, in which applause broke out after almost every comment by a parent who spoke in favor of allowing the sixth-grade class of Adelante school's Spanish Immersion Program to remain on the campus rather than being moved to another. Editor's note: These new rules would not apply to school board meetings, as school districts are not governed by the City.
However, in other meetings, such as the Planning Commission's public hearings, Commission Chair Ernie Schmidt does not allow vocal reactions by the audience at all, and permits only silent hand gestures called "spirit fingers" to show one's approval of a speaker's remarks.
An 11-page document - included in the photos section of this article - created by the City's ad hoc committee will be discussed at tonight's City Council meeting. The proposal spells out rules for City meetings such as prohibiting disruptive conduct such as loud reactions in favor of or against speaker comments, ending meetings no later than 11 p.m. unless five out of seven members vote to extend, guidelines for how crowded a meeting can be and where audience members are allowed to sit or stand, prohibiting speaker comment cards from being submitted once a public hearing has begun, and more.
The rules would also prohibit a practice that has become more popular at public hearings recently, in which one speaker "cedes" his or her time to another speaker to allow them to speak longer than the usual allotted three minutes.
City Councilmember Rosanne Foust said, in a recent interview with the San Mateo Daily Journal, “This allows all groups to have the same rights and privileges and information. If we have the rules too loose it can be open to interpretation.”
One of the most potentially impactful rules in the sub-committee's proposal is the limiting of time for public hearings and comments on controversial issues.
The proposal includes a maximum of only 15 minutes for non-agendized public comment, with the usual three-minute time limit per speaker, and only 30 minutes of public comment regarding any action items on the agenda. If there are more than five speakers who wish to address the room, the new rules say these time limits will still stand, and the time per speaker can be cut to less than three minutes.
Appeals and other public hearings will be limited to 60 minutes - a rule which could impact the carrying out of the recently-filed appeal against the development of Pete's Harbor, recently approved by the Planning Commission. The new rules give each side in an appeal - the appellent, and the applicant, which is the landowner in this case - only 10 minutes each to plead their case. In a case in which there is more than one apellent, the maximum time can be increased to no more than 20 minutes. The report indicates the City hopes this will "avoid the inequity of some parties obtaining more time than others," according to the document.
In other items, the document proposes that City council, board and commission members be banned from the use of electronics such as laptops, iPads or smartphones during meetings to access the Internet, and it proposes guidelines on what types of "ex-parte" communications (with outside parties) are allowed outside of official meetings.
All in all, these new rules suggest that long meetings such as the recent three-and-a-half hour discussion of the proposed expansion of the Costco gas station and multiple long meetings regarding the development of Pete's Harbor into luxury condos may no longer be commonplace.
Tonight's meeting of the City Council begins at 7 p.m. and takes place in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1017 Middlefield Road. It can also be streamed live via the web by clicking on "Video" next to the date of the meeting on the City Council's page on the City website.
PATCH WANTS TO KNOW - What do you think of these proposed rules? Do you think some City meetings are getting out of hand? Are there any other rules you think should be enacted? Tell us in the comments below.
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