Berkeley City Council plans to return to in-person meetings starting Dec. 6, allowing for remote participation from the public.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the end of the statewide emergency declaration for COVID-19 on Feb. 28, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín noted. He said in light of this, the agenda and rules committee has been discussing the protocols to implement for hybrid meetings over the past several weeks to ensure that they are conducted “safely and effectively.”
“Members of legislative bodies will have to participate in person or they can participate through teleconference or video conference at a location with the posted location and enabling public access to that location. So we will be going back to the way that things were before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Arreguín said at the meeting.
The proposed health protocols encourage attendees to be up to date on their vaccinations and councilmembers to take a rapid COVID-19 test on the day of the meeting if participating in person. The proposal also includes the requirement of face coverings or masks for all attendees at an in-person meeting.
The mayor proposed that physical distancing of the dais be implemented.
Councilmember Susan Wengraf claimed that many city employees currently have COVID-19, and said the “end of the emergency is coinciding with a surge.”
Arreguín asked city staff to research what other legislative bodies are doing in the Bay Area concerning public health protocols such as face coverings.
“These meetings go on for hours,” said Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren during the public comment portion of the meeting. “But you’re in the room for hours so if anyone has COVID in the room, unless they’re masked, that’s going to be circulating in the room.”
Other public commenters expressed agreement with the continuation of public health policies, such as masking and physical distancing.
Arreguín said there is a benefit to in-person meetings, but also noted that allowing virtual comment has broadened public participation.
“I really encourage council to keep the vulnerable population of our community, our elders, those that may have respiratory diseases or challenges, into account,” said Ayanna Davis from Healthy Black Families during the final public comment portion of the meeting. “Masking is going to be key to safety for our community, as well as how people are spaced in seating in person.”