Late in the meeting that took place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, City Manager Ken Irwin presented Mayor Pro Tem Dominic Farinha and council members, Shivaugn Alves, Cynthia Hommen and Al Parham with a request to reconsider previously voted upon restrictions for in-person meetings.

Executive Order N-29-20 is an emergency proclamation that ended on September 30. It allowed local legislative bodies to conduct public meetings via teleconference or videoconference during the declared public health emergency without meeting certain requirements of the Brown Act. Due to the ongoing public health emergency Assembly Bill 361 was adopted with an urgency clause that allowed the transition from emergency order to law without disruption while maintaining similar rules.

At the October 19 council meeting Resolution 2021-56 was approved authorizing the city to implement continued teleconference public meetings pursuant to AB 361. From Staff Report 1808, “AB 361 also provides that if a local agency conducts teleconference meetings in reliance on AB 361, the local agency must make the following findings by majority vote every 30 days to continue using the bill’s exemption to the Brown Act teleconferencing rules:

•The legislative body has reconsidered the circumstances of the emergency; and

•Either of the following circumstances exists: The state of emergency continues to directly impact the ability of members to meet safely in person, or State or local officials continue to impose or recommend social distancing measures.”

The council agreed that, although they were in favor of holding in-person meetings, in order to do so safely certain restrictions would need to be in place as a means to continue the mitigation of the spread of COVID-19.

Namely, seating in council chambers is limited to abide by social distancing recommendations; masks are required by all attendees regardless of vaccination status per county public health guidance; attendees must pre-register; all persons who attend in-person meetings must be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination, or must provide a negative COVID-19 test within 72-hours of the meeting and show proof of identification.

However, some of the restrictions have caused members of the public to repeatedly admonish council members during public comment periods.

Claims from residents have ranged from discriminatory testing requirements -- disregarding a person’s financial ability to obtain a test -- to ignoring a person’s natural immunity from previous infection by requiring vaccines, to claims of potentially unconstitutional invasions of privacy by forced testing or vaccines, and illegally requiring registration to attend the meetings.

During the surge of positive COVID-19 Delta Variant cases many local residents who wanted to be tested faced a several days backlog at local testing sites or had to schedule appointments out of the community.

Community concern was if residents were unable to get a test and receive their results in time for the meeting through community testing centers the only option would be to pay out-of-pocket for a test through a private provider.

Further, public concern over vaccine mandates continues to grow as health care workers and state employees, among others, have been forced to make a choice between accepting a vaccine or losing their jobs.

Parents too are facing the battle against the state since Governor Newsom mandated that all children who qualify to receive an approved vaccine must be vaccinated in order to attend in-person lessons during the 2022-23 school year.

Fears over mandated vaccination have historical significance -- The Tuskegee Experiment was an unethical clinical trial overseen by the US government-- as well as coming from a place that many claim is their desire to exercise their freedom of choice as informed citizens.

The lack of data from long-term vaccine studies is a main topic of conversation amongst those who have voiced their concerns publicly in regard to both juvenile and vaccine mandates. Lacking long-term data, citizens claim that they can’t make an informed decision about their healthcare or that of their children and take offense to the government making such decisions for them. Regardless of the city’s choice to continue to provide teleconferencing technology which meets the requirements of AB 361, the argument from the public has been that if a meeting is held in person then the public has a right to choose to attend the meeting per the Brown Act.

The Brown Act and AB 361 both provide that all persons shall be permitted to attend public meetings in-person without registration -- AB 361 specifies an exemption for third-party internet-based services like Zoom and WebEx.

AB 361 states, “All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency…”

Public comment and council consensus was that in-person meetings should be held and they have been. Now, after months of leading the county in vaccination rates members of the public and council members may once again be on the same page.

In the absence of Mayor Dennis McCord who was excused from the meeting Mayor Pro Tem Farinha, and council members Alves, Homen and Parham agreed that they too would like to consider moving forward with fewer restrictions on in-person meetings.

No action was taken at the meeting as it was not an agenda item but it is likely that future regular city council meetings will take place with fewer restrictions.

Suggestions from Irwin included asking attendees to sign in to the meeting -- to better facilitate contact tracing should it be needed – self-attestation of negative COVID-19 symptoms or infection, and self-attestation of vaccine status should the attendee so choose. Masking would still be required as it is mandated by the county and social distancing would still be practiced so capacity in chambers would still be reduced. Pre-registration was discussed as well and may still be requested or required as a means of maintaining the allowed reduced capacity.

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