At its meeting Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council discussed a controversial reformation proposal for public comment procedure.
The session began with the council congratulating Berkeley’s radio station, KALX, on its 60th anniversary and with praise for the Cazadero Performing Arts Family Camp, an arts camp in Berkeley.
Ben Casillas Jr., Victor Garland and Judy Heumann, who all recently passed, were honored.
During the public comment period, several community members expressed support for the unionization of Urban Ore workers under the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, union, citing concerns regarding wage and worker safety.
A group of Urban Ore employees took the stand to voice their unease in regard to the company’s poor business structure, which one worker said outweighs Urban Ore’s success in its mission of sustainability.
“Right now it’s about a sustainable planet, but the jobs aren’t sustainable. People show up believing in their mission and they get discouraged,” said an Urban Ore employee during public comment.
After public comment, the majority of the meeting consisted of discussion on the reformation of public comment procedure based on a measure introduced by councilmember Lori Droste.
Councilmember Rigel Robinson said it would include a consolidation of public comments into a single public comment period at the start of the council meeting. The proposed reform also prompts for the adoption of limits on the number of public speakers.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín was next to comment on the reform.
“We really try our best at the Agenda & Rules Policy Committee to balance how we calendar these meetings,” Arreguín said.
Mayor Arreguín noted the council meetings are a “balancing act” in terms of timing, and with the title of mayor for six years, the notion to reform caused him to “take a little bit of umbrage.”
However, he stressed his openness to conversation regarding the topic.
“We voted unanimously to urge you to uphold the negative recommendation of the policy committee and to strongly oppose the changes to the public comment procedure proposed by both the original and the supplemental,” said Berkeley Open Government Commission commissioner Janis Ching.
Ching iterated three reasons for the vote. First, the council should hear public opinion before voting. Second, the comments should be sequential, not “jumping” from one item to another. Lastly, Ching critiqued how having public action comments before presenting the action means people can’t hear the new proposals.
Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean also expressed her disapproval of the reform, urging the council to vote against the proposal.
However, a few did favor the reform, with a number of public commenters supporting limits on the number of speakers, including Telegraph for People and members from Cal Berkeley Democrats. They hope the option will allow for higher levels of engagement from the community and strengthen the democratic process.
Later, Arreguín motioned to refer the proposal along with suggestions made during the meeting to the Agendas & Rules Policy Committee and the Open Government Commission for further review. The effective date of the rule change would be for the April 11 council meeting.
“At the end of the day we represent the people,” Arreguín reminded the council.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Councilmember Rigel Robinson introduced a proposal to consolidate public comment into a single public comment period. In fact, that proposal was introduced by Councilmember Lori Droste.