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The era of government via Zoom is closer to being over as the Malibu City Council considers resuming in-person meetings for itself and the Planning Commission.
It was March 2, 2020, when Gov. Gavin Newsom, in response to the spread of COVID-19, issued an executive order authorizing legislative bodies to meet and make meetings available to the public via teleconference.
When it meets that way on June 14, the council will be asked to direct Steve McClary, interim city manager, and city staff to work up a proposal to return to in-person meetings — with some pandemic protocols.
Los Angeles County, like most of California, has seen case rates fall and vaccinations rise making a resumption of life “as normal” mostly a reality. According to a staff report for next week’s City Council meeting, as of May 28, more than half the people 16 and older in Los Angeles County have been fully vaccinated.
In Malibu, 56 percent of those 16 and older have received at least one dose.
June 15 will mark the “reopening” of the state economy, where Newsom says all sectors in his Blueprint for a Safer Economy “may return to usual operations in compliance with Cal/OSHA requirements and with common-sense public health policies in place, such as required masking, testing and with vaccinations encouraged.”
It appears that the state will still mandate that face coverings be required for staff and members of the public while indoors in city facilities including public meetings.
In her report on the matter, Elizabeth Shavelson, assistant to the city manager, says the council may wish to follow other municipalities' lead for resuming in-person meetings, including:
Face covering and physical distancing protocols
Partial hybrid in-person meetings in which council and key staff are in-person and members of the public continue to participate remotely
Comprehensive hybrid in-person meetings in which council and members of the public are able to participate either in-person or remotely
Shavelson says the council may also continue virtual meetings “until such time as face coverings, physical distancing and other safety protocols are no longer required or explore other meeting options.”
McClary told Surfside News he was looking to get City Hall back to normal as quickly as is safe.
“At the same time, there are some things that COVID has changed. I don’t want to say silver linings, but I think there may be some opportunity to explore some telework opportunities for people,” he said.
“The trend that you will probably see going forward the next 20, 30 years … do we need all these people actually in here, present to do their work?” he added. “In a lot of cases, you do need to have those people present. But I think there’s a way to look at that and manage that in a way that I think actually might be beneficial to everybody going forward.”
As for remote meetings’ effect on public participation in local government, McClary said it’s been a mix.
“There’s always been the technical component that’s involved. If your phone or your internet’s not working, or like me, if I have a Zoom account, ‘What's my password?’ All that type of stuff,” he said.
“On the other hand, somebody pointed this out to me, ‘I think people are really getting sick of Zoom meetings.’ And then somebody said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t have to get in the car and drive (to City Hall).’ If it’s a remote meeting, that’s true. You’re like, ‘I would have lost 30 minutes driving there and 30 minutes coming back.’”
“This is supposed to be participatory government,” McClary continued. “Back in the day, you had to find the agenda, know where it was posted, know what the meeting was. You had to kind of even know what you were looking for because this was even before internet. Then you had to show up at the right place and time and speak and all that.”
“Now I think there are a lot more opportunities for people to participate,” he added. “Even though it’s challenging and even though I would say it’s going to take additional resources, I think in the long run, having as many different ways for people to be able to participate is best, and if it also brings greater awareness to what people are doing in local government, that’s great.”
“It’s been a challenge for everybody in the meantime, but I think long-term it’s probably going to be in terms of greater public participation. I have a feeling it’s not going to be going away.”
Overflow rooms would likely be needed at City Hall to accommodate in-person meetings.
“Similarly, conducting a comprehensive hybrid meeting with in-person and virtual meetings will likely require more staff than is currently needed,” according to Shavelson’s report. “Given the city’s existing broadcast capacities, the partial hybrid in-person meeting option will likely be the easiest to implement in the near term and least staff intensive.”
The meeting is set for June 14 — via Zoom.