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Councilmember Floats Proposal to Shorten Meetings

By Jorge Casuso

October 18, 2023 -- Over the past 20 years, the City Council has taken numerous stabs at shortening City Council meetings, but last week's marathon session that adjourned 4 a.m. indicates the changes haven't worked.

The latest proposal, which Counciilmember Caroline Torosis plans to place on an upcoming agenda as a discussion item, would require the vote of five Councilmembers, instead of four, to consider an item after 11 p.m.

(The item, which appears on the agenda for next Tuesday's meeting, "is being removed and referred back asap," Torosis said in an email.)

Under the proposal, if an item is considered after 11 p.m., Councilmembers would have to limit their comments to 1 minute each and can speak no more than twice per item.

Councilmembers would be allowed to ask questions, "but the Presiding Officer shall closely monitor to ensure they are only questions, not statements of opinion," according to the proposal.

In addition staff presentations after 11 p.m. would be limited to 15 minutes "unless the Council by majority vote allows a longer presentation."

Torosis' upcoming item would be the latest proposal taken up by the Council to shorten meetings that begin at 5:30 p.m. and routinely go past midnight.

Proposals made over the past two decades have included everything from placing a five-minute limit on oral staff reports to filing a lawsuit claiming that meeting after 11 p.m. violates the Brown Act.

Filed in 2005 by former Councilmembers Bob Holbrook and Herb Katz, the lawsuit was rejected in November 2006 by a District Court of Appeal. Other efforts have also failed.

In 2010, the Council rejected a proposal by then Mayor Bobby Shriver to limit the amount of time Councilmembers had to discuss an item ("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).

In 2019, the Council rejected a proposal to limit individual remarks by member of the public to one minute, instead of the usual two, under certain circumstances ("Santa Monica Council Tweaks Public Input Rules," February 28, 2019).

Some of the changes the Council has implemented include taking public input on certain agenda and non-agenda items at 5:30 p.m., before the Council meets in closed session.

The Council also approved a policy in September 2021 that requires Council members to consult with the City Manager before placing staff administrative items on the agenda.

The problem, however, still persists. There are seven Councilmember discussion items listed on Tuesday's agenda, five of them continued from last week's marathon session.

The August 22 agenda had eight Councilmember items, which include everything from giving small grants to programs or organizations to suggesting policies that become important ordinances.

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