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Vista council moves forward with changes to public comment

VISTA — The Vista City Council is working on a resolution to improve civic engagement and efficiency by adjusting public speaking times during meetings.

During its March 21 meeting, the council agreed the current format is cumbersome and reduces public engagement by having most of its public comment period, also known as oral communications, near the end of the meeting. The council recommended a 30-minute period, or the first 10 people, to speak prior to the consent calendar and discussion items.

Public comment is where any member of the public can comment about anything, as long it’s not on the agenda, to the council. Every agenda item is required to have its own public comment, but remarks must focus on the specific item and not other issues before the council.

Councilwoman Katie Melendez brought the item forward and said it was important to rework their policy to encourage more public engagement.

“Our oral communications are at the end of meetings, and we lose a lot of people who want to speak,” Melendez said. “I think we could follow the model of county board of supervisors or school board where they have a set amount in beginning.”

However, the council was split on whether to reduce the time period for public comment if 30 or more people spoke on one item. Currently, the council allows for three minutes per speaker per item.

Mayor John Franklin suggested allowing the council the ability to reduce the time limit if there were 30 or more people speaking on a particular issue. Franklin said it would save time so the council could still address city business.

For example, Franklin said if there were 60 speakers, a two-minute limit per speaker would save one hour, and a one-minute cap per person would save two hours, reducing reduce the length of meetings, some of which have run five or six hours over the past several months.

Other cities, such as Carlsbad, San Marcos and Oceanside, have limited time limits for speakers when dozens of people sign up to speak on one item.

“When large amounts of speakers, that extra minute results in an extra hour and losing some speakers,” Franklin said. “When meetings go to a late hour, it’s not good for our residents. We need to think about the duration of meetings to encourage public engagement.”

Councilwoman Corinna Contreras opposed reducing speaking time, saying speakers already don’t have enough time and would have preferred five speakers to begin each meeting but was fine with 10.

Councilman Dan O’Donnell also supported 10 speakers but wasn’t sure about the reduced time limit. He said he wanted information about how other cities or regional boards address the same issue.

Another issue is virtual options, which Contreras said the city will be offering in June. Residents will be able to call in or use an online platform to engage in public comment. She also said the city is working to include translators.

The council also discussed pooling time, which would allow a speaker, only if they are present, to cede their time to another person.