Governor Newsom Suspends Some Brown Act Requirements in Light of COVID-19 Public Health Crisis
In an effort to implement public health officials' recommendations to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-29-20 on March 17, which relaxes some of the Ralph M. Brown Act's (Brown Act) public meeting requirements (Gov. Code Sec. 54950 et seq.) that are not practical in light of the current public health crisis.
The Brown Act places strict requirements on local legislative bodies regarding the posting, access and physical location of voting members during public hearings. Order N-29-20 allows public meetings to be held by video, teleconference or other electronic means during the period in which health officials have imposed or recommended social distancing measures. It further suspends numerous other Brown Act requirements, including:
- to identify the physical location of members participating by teleconference
- to post agendas at all teleconference locations
- for a quorum of the legislative body's members to be within the jurisdiction when the meeting is taking place
Instead, local legislative bodies may fulfill Brown Act requirements by allowing members of the public to observe and submit public comments through teleconference or other electronic means or combination thereof. Order N-29-20 still requires local legislative bodies to:
- provide advance notice of and post agendas for public meetings in accordance with the Brown Act's time frames
- provide information by which members of the public may observe and offer public comment
- advertise and implement a procedure for receiving and resolving reasonable Americans with Disabilities' (ADA) accommodation requests.
Several Bay-Area jurisdictions have begun holding hearings via teleconference, including San Francisco, Redwood City, Daly City, Menlo Park and San Mateo County. In Southern California, jurisdictions that have begun hearings via teleconference include Los Angeles, Long Beach and Pasadena. Procedural and logistical questions that jurisdictions are grappling with are whether to set deadlines for receiving comments and whether and how to handle "real-time" comments during the course of a public hearing.
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