After a year of faceless council meetings, the Long Beach City Council is expected to transition to live video calls in the coming weeks.
At their Tuesday, March 2 meeting, councilmembers butted heads on whether to return to the council chambers in-person.
Councilmember Al Austin brought forward an item in favor of resuming in-person council meetings once health and safety protocols were met. Both Councilmembers Stacy Mungo and Daryl Supernaw signed onto the item.
“We are engaged in discussion on how we are opening our schools, our workforce and economy,” Austin said. “As we’re having those discussions, we should also be considering how we can safely begin to reopen and reengage with transparency in our city government.”
Austin pointed out some of the technical barriers to online council meetings: dropped internet connections, mixing votes, speaking while muted and the inability of residents to see councilmembers as they engage in discussions.
“The goal here is to improve transparency and promote good government, while being able to work in a more collegial manner as city councilmembers and elected officials,” Austin said. “This recommendation is not meant to put any city employees, any of our legislative staff or the public at risk.”
Other councilmembers pointed out safety issues related with returning to in-person council meetings. To resume in-person meetings, the council chambers have to be staffed with workers to run the cameras, many of whom have not been vaccinated.
Though councilmembers are vaccinated, many city officials are not. Unvaccinated officials who provide supplementary information and field questions would still have to call-in to the meetings. City Manager Tom Modica said that most department directors do not have access to the vaccine. The same is true of support staff.
Even if the council did return to in-person meetings, residents would still be required to call-in to give their comments, creating a complicated hybrid/online scheme.
“I think a year has exhausted all of us, but I think that we need to [resume] with all the safety measures in place. And right now, I don’t think it’s safe,” Councilmember Mary Zendejas said. “It’s very important, since our staff would be with us, that they are also vaccinated.”
Councilmembers unanimously agreed that the council wasn’t ready to return to in-person meetings due to safety concerns.
They did, however, push for city staff to look towards live-streaming video feeds from councilmembers. City council meetings have been audio-only since the beginning of the pandemic.
Modica said that, if the downward trend in case numbers continues, the City could reach the threshold to resume in-person meetings in a few weeks, which are allowed under the red tier of California’s reopening plan.
After the county reaches seven cases per 100,000 residents, Modica said it would still take two weeks to implement a plan to resume meetings. The City must also meet and confer with unions before implementing such a plan.
City Clerk Monique De La Garza, said that live video council meetings could begin as early as next week, depending on how long it takes to ensure that all councilmembers have access to sufficient internet speeds and equipment. The meetings are planned to take place over Webex.
The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, March 9 via teleconference.