Laguna Beach City Council votes to continue streaming meetings through mid-October

Laguna Beach citizens gather at City Hall on Sept. 10, 2019.
Laguna Beach citizens gather at City Hall at a City Council meeting in September 2019. Meetings have been held virtually in the city since April 7.
(Photo by Lilly Nguyen)

Laguna Beach residents may not be returning to City Council chambers until this fall, but that depends on continued discussion of meeting formats scheduled for Oct. 13.

The City Council voted 4-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow dissenting, on Tuesday to continue holding council meetings over Zoom as opposed to adopting a hybrid format that would allow for residents to enter council chambers to speak in person on items. Residents would be required to wear masks.

From April 7 to July 10, the City Council has held 10 meetings over Zoom, and city staff reported that participation has almost tripled. Average attendance, including staff, on meetings has been 265 and the average number of attendees — meaning members of the public — has been 224, according to a staff report prepared for Tuesday.

The council meetings have also been livestreamed on the city’s website and are available to view on Cox cable Channel 852.

Residents have raised concerns during recent meetings, criticizing the council for holding meetings on controversial topics such as the Downtown Specific Plan, the historical preservation ordinance and city beach closures while the pandemic continues and members of the public have been unable to physically attend.

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 506 cases and 17 deaths related to COVID-19 in the county on Thursday, bringing the cumulative totals for both to 35,778 and 604, respectively. The agency has reported a total of 133 cases in Laguna Beach.

City staff recommended that the council vote to continue holding meetings virtually through the end of the year, with the possibility to revisit the discussion in January 2021. Councilwoman Toni Iseman moved action for the discussion be revisited in October, saying the current situation could change in August and September.

“I don’t see any need today to make a decision for five full months when we know, based on everything, there’s no way it’s going to open up fully in August or September,” Dicterow said, but added that he was in support of a hybrid model as opposed to strictly online.

Councilman Peter Blake said he was in favor of delaying discussion until January, adding that he would not be attending the meetings in person if members of the public were to return to the council chambers and felt that “nothing’s going to change between now and January.” Councilwoman Sue Kempf and Mayor Bob Whalen agreed.

Of the city’s five City Council members, only Dicterow and Blake physically attended Tuesday’s meeting.

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