The days of waiting for many hours to voice one’s opinions to the Berkeley City Council may soon be over if a suggestion being put forward by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin is adopted. The agenda item, which will be heard at the Council’s March 8 meeting, proposes starting public hearings at City Council meetings at a set time — most probably 8pm. Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin suggest establishing a six-month trial period to test out the idea. The set time would apply to items heard on appeal to decide whether or not to have a public hearing, as well as hearings that are already on the schedule. As it stands, public hearings occur in tandem with the time of the agenda item. For members of the public wishing to speak about an issue, this can sometimes mean having to be present in Council chambers for many hours, sometimes late into the night or early morning.

Update, 19:10: Kriss Worthington tells us that he introduced this idea as part of the Sunshine Ordinance but it didn’t make it into that legislation, so he is bringing it to Council as an autonomous agenda item. “It is the number one, simplest step we could take to stop driving people crazy,” he tells Berkeleyside.Worthington concedes the proposal could be controversial. “There are those who will worry that public hearings could push other important items off the agenda, but that’s why I changed the suggested time from 7:30pm to 8:00pm so that there is time before the hearing to consider the important item,” he says. He adds that if there are multiple public hearings he believes they should be allocated a night each, “even if it means scheduling a special meeting”.  “The system is very dysfunctional now and this would be more friendly to the public,” he concludes.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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4 Comments

  1. It’d be nice to have something like public “question time”. Public commentary is just fine but I’d like to see public question and council members answer.

  2. How is this done in other cities like Oakland ? I believe the waiting around is not as bad yet the public is heard.

  3. I agree with Eric.
    Surely there must be an easier way to get public opinion outside of City Council meetings. And what about those who have an opinion, but don’t feel the need to stand up and say things that have already been said? Don’t they have a right to have their opinion matter?

    What about some form of balloting for registered Berkeley residents?

  4. It seems to be that the devil (or perhaps the angels) will be in the details of this proposal. While having predictability in the start time of public hearings is a laudable goal, achieving it could be problematic. I see some potential approaches:

    Restrict consent items or limit public-comment/council-discussion on these items
    Reduce or eliminate pre-hearing ceremonial items
    Start council meetings earlier (i.e. during dinner time)
    Hold public hearings as special city council meetings with nothing other than the hearing (I imagine this would mean more council meetings over all)

    All of these have pitfalls; also, the greater convenience of earlier hearings could come at the expense of attention and public comment for other agenda items. The restriction that no public hearing could start after eight also means that one could often have no more than one public hearing per meeting–perhaps multiple hearings per meeting are already disallowed.

    Again, making council meetings more accessible and less exhausting is a worthy goal. Ironically, however, it is lengthy public hearings that frequently cause City Council meetings to drag on into the wee hours. I am unconvinced that privileging public hearings even more over other items is best for the city or for the democratic process, but perhaps the text of this proposal will allay my concerns.