CARLSBAD — After more than 400 days, the Carlsbad City Council and other city boards and commissions will soon return to the dais.
The council approved returning to in-person meetings July 13, along with 6 p.m. start times for council meetings, during its June 22 meeting. The council chose to return sooner rather than later as COVID-19 restrictions lessen. Staff recommended a start date of Aug. 17.
However, the council’s monthly workshop will remain virtual until Sept. 30, when Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders regarding public meetings expire.
Mayor Matt Hall said he was in favor of returning earlier as it would be easier to conduct city business and listen to residents during the public comment period. The rest of the council had no preference on the return date, but the council held a lengthy discussion about the starting time.
“Personally, and comments from the public, they really want us back in council chambers,” Hall said. “My belief the sooner we get back into chambers and open for business … it creates better interaction with the community. There’s nothing better than to look someone in the eye.”
City Manager Scott Chadwick said the only issue is for staff to re-notice several public meetings, although it does not include the council as its next meeting is July 13.
Chadwick said staff looked at holding meetings at City Hall, the Faraday Administration Building and the Schulman Auditorium at the Dove Library.
However, Faraday and the auditorium lack audio and some video capabilities, leaving an easy decision for the council to return to City Hall. In addition, the meetings will have no capacity or mask limitations, per orders and guidance from the governor and the Centers for Disease Control, Chadwick said.
Councilwoman Teresa Acosta said she was open to either date, but said she was excited to sit on the dais as she has not done so since her election in November 2020 due to the pandemic.
The Vista and Oceanside city councils have returned to in-person meetings, as have a number of school boards. The Encinitas City Council is set to return in person on Aug. 11, Acosta said.
“In the staff report, a grid showing what other cities are doing,” Acosta said. “There is no standard. Some have opened in a limited way, or not allowed in the public. It’s all over the map and no standard … but it looks like things are going OK.”
As for the time, the City Council adjusted its meeting start time to 3 p.m. during the pandemic, moving up by three hours. Several years ago, the council approved moving all its meeting start times to 6 p.m. so more residents could attend.
Prior to that, one council meeting per month was at 9 a.m. and typically held at Faraday.
However, the council noted its meetings run long, many lasting four or more hours, which limits the ability of the public to comment on items toward the bottom of the agenda.
Councilman Keith Blackburn said the goal for the council should be to conduct meetings within two-and-a-half hours, noting the council should respect the time of staff and residents.
Acosta, along with Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel, said some items are complex and require more robust discussion. Acosta said some residents want the council to thoroughly explain their thought processes prior to a vote or position on an item.
City Attorney Celia Brewer said the council can revise the agenda as meetings progress to avoid longer meetings, noting the council can table items to the next meeting or a later date. She also said it will help with staff productivity as when meetings run long, those staffers who attend can be putting in 16- to 18-hour days.
Acosta and Bhat-Patel also pushed to continue the use of Zoom or another technology platform for public comment.
“People have been accustomed and know how technology platforms work,” Acosta said. “So many advantages of these technology platforms and we don’t want to lose it all.”