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Council Tries, Yet Again, to Shorten Meetings

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By Jorge Casuso

February 28, 2022 -- For the third time in three years, the City Council last week took steps to try to curb marathon meetings that usually stretch well past midnight.

The first of two Councilmember items placed on last Tuesday's agenda and unanimously approved by the Council requires a two-thirds vote for an item to be taken up after 11 p.m.

The other directs the City Clerk and City Manager to review "time management and Council agenda management" rules and procedures to end Council meetings earlier.

The Clerk and Manager would look at "the timing and scheduling of Closed Session and Study Sessions and address any additional meetings of the City Council, if necessary."

"I don't believe the City's business, the people's business should be decided at midnight or 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. ever in Santa Monica," said Councilmember Phil Brock, who with Councilmember Lana Negrete placed the items oon the agenda.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich, who runs the meetings, said she has already curtailed her comments. "I am doing the best I can and talking less than most people here and taking up less time," Himmelrich said.

Councilmember Gleam Davis was skeptical that requiring a vote to take up an item after 11 p.m. would make a difference.

"I'll be honest, I don't think it will make the meetings any shorter," Davis said. "It's just one more vote to be taken.

If the vote fails, Davis said, the item "just ends up on the next agenda, and it just starts to back up and back up and back up."

While staff will return with written measures that will likely be approved, Davis doesn't think it will make much difference.

"I just don't want anyone to have unrealistic expectations it's going to make the meetings shorter," Davis said. "They did it for decades on the Council, and it just didn't work.

The Council has taken up at least four proposals to shorten meetings over the past 12 years.

In 2010, Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver proposed limiting the amount of time Councilmembers had to discuss an item, but the proposal was rejected ("Council Ponders How to Make a Shorter Meeting," June 24, 2010).

Later that year, the Council explored placing a five-minute limit on oral staff reports and using timers to show public speakers and Councilmembers how long they had been speaking ("Development Agreements, Length of Meetings on City Council Agenda," September 10, 2010).

Three years ago, the Council took up a proposal to limit individual remarks to one minute, instead of the usual two, under certain circumstances. But that, too, was rejected ("Santa Monica Council Tweaks Public Input Rules," February 28, 2019).

Last September, the Council tried stemming the flood of items individual Councilmembers themselves place at the end of meeting agendas.

The proposal came after Councilmembers placed 20 items over the four previous meetings ("Council Takes Steps to Curb Own Agenda Items," September 17, 2021).

In addition to exploring changing the rules, Councilmembers have tried suing the City in an effort to shorten meetings.

In a lawsuit filed in 2005, Councilmembers Bob Holbrook and Herb Katz argued the lengthy meetings violated the Brown Act.

Their efforts to enjoin the Council from meeting past 11 p.m. were rejected in a November 2006 decision by a District Court of Appeal.

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