City will look at bringing back telephone public comment as in-person meetings resume

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to have the city manager and city clerk’s office determine if it’s feasible to receive input at meetings from people who are physically present and from those who want to call in.

When city officials announced last month that City Council meetings would be held in person again, the option to call in by phone was removed.

But while the council chambers are now open, seating has been limited; roughly half the seats in the chamber have been blocked off.

“Our city council discussions and the policies of our city are improved when everyone has the ability to participate in meetings and provide their public comment, whether they can be present in the council chambers physically or participate remotely by telephone due to physical or other limitations that make in-person presence difficult,” said Councilwoman Suzie Price, one of four councilmembers who brought the item for discussion.

There was no timeline discussed on when the councilmembers expect the report to come back.

Attending City Council meetings has historically been a struggle for people who work and can’t make the 5 p.m. start times, have child-care conflicts and issues traveling to Downtown, where the meetings are held on Tuesday nights.

City Clerk Monique De La Garza has previously said that having both in-person and telephone public comment would be a challenge for her staff, adding that multiple people would be needed to run both types of comment for each meeting.

Her office had previously meshed together multiple platforms including Zoom, Webex and the city’s normal broadcasting arm to allow residents to phone in during the pandemic, something that she said was labor intensive. Doing both in-person and phone would likely require more funding to either pay for staff overtime or the hiring of additional staff.

A state law, Assembly Bill 339, which is currently making its way through State Senate committees, would require large cities like Long Beach to provide telephonic public comment at least through 2023.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.