By Olin Ericksen
March 20 -- More than two months ago, the City Council
tried to broach the topic of cutting back the long hours of
marathon council meetings. Eight meetings later, they found
time to talk about it.
From forming subcommittees and limiting staff reports to
listening to mayoral admonitions and following an informal
timeline, several suggestions were aired last week on ways
to speed up council meetings that for years have continued
late into the night.
"I think the objective here is to make the meetings
more efficient, make sure we give everybody an opportunity
to be heard," Mayor Richard Bloom said. "That really
is the hallmark of participatory democracy in Santa Monica."
Set to come back to the council as formal policy in coming
weeks, many of the recommendations made last Tuesday night
were accepted with little debate.
However, there were differences when it came to the issue
of limiting council members' input or the public's right to
"If we are going to direct staff to put a firm limit
on the ability of members of the public to speak at our meeting,”
said Council member Kevin McKeown, “I would like to
see that counted with some additional and equivalent discipline
placed on our own times in speaking, because I think this
is a dialogue."
Currently, members of the public have three minutes to speak
an issue, two minutes when there are more than 15 speakers
and one minute when there are more than 40 speakers.
Under a suggestion that could likely pass when it is brought
back to the council as an ordinance, the two-minute time limit
would kick in if more than 10 members of the public speak
on an item, and one minute when there are 30 members or more
scheduled to speak.
Council member Bobby Shriver sided with McKeown in asking
his council members to carefully consider further restricting
"I'm not that crazy about limiting the members of the
public's time," he said. "I find I learn something
when members of the public speak."
Shriver joined others in suggesting limiting the council
members’ speaking time.
"I think the number one thing we have to do honestly
is discipline ourselves, and I'm happy to raise my hand and
say I'm a violator of talking too much," he said. "There's
no way to do that without a clock on it."
However, some, including Council member Ken Genser, said
the council didn’t need staff to craft ways to limit
the time they had to speak.
"I think it's inappropriate to ask staff to have that
responsibility," said Genser. "We have ideas on
how we should speak less… We don't need others to tell
us to be quiet. If we can't do it ourselves, then we've got
Council members, who will put the proposed changes to a vote,
agreed the issue is an important one.
Shriver said he knows several people, many of them women,
who would not serve on the council because meetings last too
"It's not because they couldn't get money for (campaign)
financing, it's because they had problems with staying up
this late," he said. "In terms of things that help
prevent people from running for the council, I think the lateness
of hours is a serious impediment.
"Particularly women candidates who have had informal
talks (with me have said) 'I can't do it. I have kids I have
a job, I can't stay up until one in the morning," Shriver
In recent years, the late meetings have even led Council
members Bob Holbrook and Herb Katz to sue the City, although
the legal challenges were later dropped.
In an effort to address issues left over from late-night
meetings, the council has been scheduling several extra sessions
in the past few months, something McKeown said is not a good
"We burn out staff, we make it difficult on us, all
of us who have full-time jobs,” McKeown said. “So
I'd like to make additional meetings an option as a last resort."
But the additional meetings may be required to address the
increasingly difficult and complex set of issues coming before
the council, Bloom said.
"That time frame was created decades ago when the city
was a much less complicated place,” Bloom said. “The
issues were not nearly as numerous and complex as they are
today. We simply have more things to accomplish and more things
Genser, who is serving his 19th year on the council, worried
that no matter what steps are taken, it will be difficult
to curb long meetings.
"It's easy to make suggestions, and it’s hard
to have them really bear fruit," he said.
After several minutes discussing the issue on an evening
when the agenda was filled with pressing topics, Bloom practiced
some agenda management of his own well past midnight.
"Ken has to go home, so I think we really need to move
this along," the mayor said.
The item is expected to come back to the council in coming