The Long Beach City Council is expected to take the first step that could allow all city meetings to return to virtual settings when they vote Tuesday on resolution that would allow certain open meeting rules to be waived under a recently adopted state law.
While Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide emergency order expired at the end of September, Assembly Bill 361 allows public meetings to be held virtually if a local health official has imposed measures to promote social distancing.
The bill requires the City Council to determine by a majority vote that meeting in person presents an imminent risk to the health and safety of attendees and allow all meeting bodies to pivot to virtual or hybrid meetings to increase social distancing.
The vote by the council wouldn’t force public meetings to return to a virtual setting but would allow each individual head of public commissions and committees to decide how future meetings will be held. The bill’s rules will expire in January 2024.
AB-361 requires meeting bodies to provide a virtual option for public comment, and in some cases could do away with some Long Beach-specific rules that require commenters to sign up in advance to speak. If one member of a meeting body participates virtually it would trigger the rules spelled out in AB-361.
The resolution the council is voting on Tuesday is required to be reevaluated every 30 days. No outbreaks have been tied to public meetings, according to Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer.
Pablo Rubio, an analyst in the City Clerk’s office, said that how meetings will be hosted will be on a meeting-to-meeting basis for all bodies and that the announcement would be made through each bodies’ agendas. So far, no bodies that were meeting in-person have indicated they will be switching to virtual, Rubio said.
James Ahumada, a spokesperson for Mayor Robert Garcia’s office, said that Garcia intends to keep City Council meetings in-person while maintaining strict safety protocols. People attending City Council meetings are currently required to wear masks throughout the meeting and seats in the council chambers are blocked off to enforce social distancing.
“Of course if there are additional recommendations from the health department we will follow those,” Ahumada said in a test Wednesday.
The resolution was put on the Oct. 12 agenda just over a week after Davis recommended that all public meetings return to a virtual format, to the extent possible, to prevent further community transmission of COVID-19.
Davis said her recommendation was based on the city’s still high infection rates.
Long Beach’s daily case rate has dropped dramatically from mid-August, when it was reporting over 32 cases per 100,000 residents.
As of Oct. 5, the last day the city updated its COVID-19 dashboard, the city reported 12.7 new cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity rate of 2.1%. Los Angeles County reported 10.1 cases per 100,000 residents and a test positivity rate of 1.2%.
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