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Council Could Continue Holding Virtual Meetings

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By Jorge Casuso

March 7, 2022 -- City staff is recommending that the Council on Tuesday vote to continue barring the public from physically attending government meetings for another month.

The vote comes four days after Los Angeles County lifted its indoor mask mandate shortly after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) determined it had achieved “low” COVID-19 activity.

Despite the move, staff is recommending that Santa Monica's elected and appointed bodies continue to meet through April 7 without the public physically present.

That will "ensure that all members of the public -- including those who are immunocompromised, not fully vaccinated, eligible to be vaccinated or reside with such individuals -- have the opportunity to address the City Council and offer comment in real time."

The Council last month began meeting in the Council Chambers after holding meetings via teleconferencing from their individual homes for nearly two years, but the public has been unable to attend in person.

Last September, the Council invoked Assembly Bill 361, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, extending the authority of public agencies to continue holding virtual meetings during the ongoing coronavirus emergency.

Since then, every 30 days the Council has made the findings required and unanimously approved resolutions that allow it to continue relying on the State law to hold its meetings without the public present.

"The procedures currently set up for City Council meetings, which provide for public attendance and comment through a call-in or internet-based service option, satisfy the requirements of AB 361," staff wrote in its report to the Council.

Under the law, meetings held via teleconferencing, which includes video, require the City to identify ways the public can watch or participate.

The City also must allow the public to submit comments during the meetings and address the legislative body in real time.

While staff is recommending that Santa Monica keep its meetings virtual, other LA County cities -- including Beverly Hills and Long Beach -- will resume in-person meetings on March 15.

Beverly Hills will hold hybrid meetings that allow for virtual participation as well as in-person attendance.

Beginning March 22, Council meetings in Long Beach will be held in person only, and "individuals interested in providing public comment must appear physically in the Civic Chamber."

In Santa Monica, no Council, commission, board or task force meeting has been open to the public since an emergency order was issued on March 16, 2020.

City officials said the City "is crafting a plan to return to in-person public meetings after April 7.

"We look forward to sharing details with the community about in-person public participation soon," said City spokesperson Constance Farrell.

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