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California

After criticism, L.A. County supervisors to allow real-time public comment at its meetings

Supervisor Janice Hahn
Supervisor Janice Hahn smiles after a debate in May.
(Los Angeles Times)

Starting on May 12, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will allow the public to comment live by phone for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak shut down in-person meetings.

The decision comes after the board has met three times virtually — on March 31, April 14 and April 28 — without allowing for live public comment via phone or video. Instead, supervisors asked that residents email or mail in their comments before the meetings. Those comments were then sent to the board, a county spokesperson said.

According to Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office, the public will now be able to call in for one hour at the beginning of the meeting. They will be able to speak on items of their choice from the meeting’s agenda, offer general comment, or do a combination of both. Each person will receive one minute if they are speaking on one agenda item, two minutes for two or more items, and one minute for general comment, according to Hahn’s office.

It is a similar format to what’s being used by the Los Angeles City Council, which has allowed for live comment by phone several times since the pandemic stopped in-person meetings. The council has set aside roughly an hour, and residents have been getting to speak for up to one minute on as many as three items, plus one minute for public comment, allowing them four minutes total. They have also, at some meetings, taken additional comment on specific agenda items.

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The board has faced criticism for being slow to set up a way to hear public comment live, including from Hahn.

Hahn told The Times that the board was told by county counsel it was in compliance with the Brown Act, which spells out the rules for public access during government meetings, by allowing the public to email comments.

But Hahn said there’s a big difference between following “the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.”

There are times when she or another supervisor is moved to make a “friendly amendment” to a fellow board member’s motion because of an issue raised by a resident during public comment. Additionally, she said, there are times when someone raises an issue that’s so significant, a supervisor will ask a department head to come to the microphone and immediately address it.

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“We are making decisions that truly impact the social, financial and physical landscape for people who live here, and we’re their government, and they have a right to weigh in in a way that’s meaningful,” Hahn said.

Times staff writers Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser contributed to this report.


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