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Escondido council to allow both online and in-person public comments

ESCONDIDO – The Escondido City Council adopted a policy on May 25 that gives people the option to either address the council in person at meetings or to submit comments online and have them read aloud during the meeting.

At last week’s meeting, Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez requested that an item be placed on the agenda to discuss the public comment policy during council meetings.

Her request came after Mayor Paul McNamara decided not to have 131 comments from the preceding council meeting read aloud, explaining that it wouldn’t be an efficient use of time.

“I have decided I have the authority to do this and I don’t think we need to spend another 2 hours hearing essentially the same comments for and against,” McNamara said at the May 19 meeting.

After a tense exchange between the mayor and Martinez, Martinez requested that the council update their public comment policy.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the council heard five in-person public comments all in favor of allowing online and in-person public comments.

“The truth is that having these comments sitting in your emails is not enough. How do we know that you will read them, how do we know that you will even glance at them? The answer is that we don’t know. The only way to assure that these comments are being looked at is if you read them out loud here, during these meetings,” Escondido resident Carla Aguilar said.

Other comments spoke about how having only an in-person option for public comments excludes the voices of people with disabilities who may not be able to come to the meetings, low-income residents without access to transportation and working-class residents who don’t get off work until after 5 pm.

“I do think that we didn’t give proper notice to our residents… that public comments would no longer be read,” Martinez said. “It’s important to hear the public and the public wants to participate in these meetings.”

All of the councilmembers said that, though the online model was created for COVID-19, they support implementing the hybrid model until the end of the year, at which point they will adjust it or improve it, if necessary.

The motion was approved 5-0.

The council approved rent increases at two mobile home parks and gave final approval to plans and exemptions for the development of 120 condominium units at West Second Avenue and South Pine Street.

An item to designate city-owned parcels as surplus land was continued until the new city manager can give input.

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