Plan to limit public input on hold

An attempt by Hermosa Beach city officials to eliminate some written communications from residents from city council meeting agendas went down in flames Tuesday — perhaps only temporarily — following vigorous resident complaints.

The issue had been scheduled for discussion at this week’s meeting, but it was not included on the agenda. City Attorney Michael Jenkins explained at the meeting’s outset that the proposal was “staff driven” and simply an effort to make council agenda packages “a little more user-friendly.”

City Manager Suja Lowenthal unveiled her plan to limit “general written communications” not addressing “specific” agenda items near the end of the council’s Dec. 8 meeting.

“As we continue to refine the city council agenda format we have been reviewing agendas in other cities and have determined that written communications of a general nature are not attached to agendas,” Lowenthal told the council. “Therefore, beginning at the next city council agenda we will no longer attach written communications of a general nature to the agenda.”

Jenkins told the council that “after that announcement was made, a couple of residents didn’t see that as an improvement. We let (those) folks know that we had reversed course.”

But the plan is not yet dead. It will be included on a future agenda for council consideration after “we come back with a revised (ordinance) and have a full-blown discussion” of the “written communications matter,” added Jenkins. He said a 2015 council policy was “out of date and needs to be revised.”

Residents were quick to respond to Lowenthal’s proposal.

“This new restriction prevents residents from making their general written thoughts, feedback, and criticism regarding the ongoings of our city government visible to the public,” Jed Sanford wrote in a letter to the council. Sanford suggested “substantial violations of central provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act in connection with this city council decision.”

Howard Longacre told the council in a letter, “This is the absolutely filthy, rotten, disgusting, abusive technique used for modifying the municipal code of a city.”

Alastair Hamblin, an Idyllwild attorney representing former council member Hany Fangary’s wife, Dina, in a separate litigation, wrote that “it appears that city council taking input from city staff and from our community and making the right decisions for our stakeholders is now in our rear-view mirror.” He noted the plan’s presentation “was not consistent with the Brown Act public notice requirements.”

Jenkins, in referring to alleged violations of the state open meeting law, “Every misstep is not a violation of the Brown Act. This is a knee jerk reaction. We listened. And we acted.”

There was no violation because the council had “taken no action,” he added. ER


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