How to attend and participate in public meetings during COVID-19

With local and state officials warning that social distancing measures might not be eased in the near future, participating in public meetings remotely will likely become a fixture in the coming weeks, and potentially months.

The City of Long Beach closed its civic center to the public last month and other public institutions also switched to digital solutions to broadcast their meetings, which means residents wanting to view them have to do so from home. There are several options for residents to still watch the City Council and other board and commissions and have their opinions be part of the public record.

Viewing from home

Residents with cable subscriptions from Spectrum (Channel 3), Frontier (Channel 21) or AT&T U-Verse (Channel 99) can watch the council’s Tuesday night meetings, or other city commission meetings, on their home televisions.

City Council, Harbor Commission and other bodies’ meetings are also be streamed online at www.lbtv3.com. While most smaller commissions have canceled or postponed their upcoming meetings, some can be accessed by visiting the city’s meeting schedule site and either dialing in using the listed access code for the scheduled conference call or by clicking the “in progress” link in the video column.

Meetings for the Long Beach Unified School District and Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees are broadcast through the institutions’ YouTube channels.

Public comment

Public comment and how to let the public engage in meetings has become an especially tricky task for the city as it tries to balance transparency and democratic values with social distancing orders set forth by the governor.

For now, the city is using email and its e-comment feature that’s accessible through this website for upcoming meetings. Members of the public can submit comment by clicking on the e-comment link for the corresponding meeting they wish to take part in, but the link is only live up until the start of the meeting.

Those comments are printed out and packaged together for each city councilmember or commissioner to look over before voting on issues. The comments are also made available to the public the next day when the meeting’s minutes are published.

Both LBUSD and LBCC boards accept electronic comment as well. Comments regarding LBUSD board agenda items can be sent via email here and comments on LBCC agenda items can be submitted here.

Going forward

City leaders say that the setup isn’t ideal, but officials are trying to avoid issues that others have encountered in which video conferencing efforts have resulted in inappropriate material being broadcast to the entire channel.

While this is the current set up, the city has not ruled out switching to a more interactive way of broadcasting meetings in the future if social distancing guidelines become a long-term tool to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.

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