We asked and you answered: 88.8% of the people responding to our poll about in-person vs. virtual meetings for neighborhood councils and other city bodies clearly favored either a hybrid option for both board members and attendees…or to continue virtual-only meetings.
Last Thursday, we wrote about the conversation the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council is having about whether or not its members want to return to pre-pandemic-style in-person meetings (or at least some kind of hybrid in-person/virtual meetings) after the city’s COVID-19 emergency order expires at the end of January. After the order expires, all public meetings, including meetings of the city’s 99 neighborhood councils, will once again be fully governed by the Ralph M. Brown Act, a state law that requires all public meetings, and the votes taken at them, to be held in person.
At last week’s GWNC meeting, however, a number of GWNC board members said they are not comfortable returning yet to fully in-person meetings, citing concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, increased costs for in-person meeting space, and the fact that online neighborhood council meetings have often improved meeting attendance and public access to these grass roots governmental bodies.
So while this issue plays out at our own neighborhood council and others across the city, we thought it would be interesting to survey our Buzz readers, many of whom are very active in local politics, and many of whom also regularly attend both neighborhood council and other city meetings. We presented a number of options for public meetings, including in-person meetings, virtual meetings, two hybrid models, and simply allowing each public body to choose what it would like to do.
Buzz Poll Results
So far, we’ve received 27 responses to the poll. Responses reflect a variety of preferences, but for the question about which kinds of meetings people would prefer moving forward, these are the results (respondents were allowed to choose more than one option):
As shown above, the most popular selection by our respondents, chosen by 48.1% of those answering the question, was the option we labeled “Hybrid 1,” which would allow both board members/officials and attendees to attend, interact and/or vote either virtually or in person at any meeting. That means board members attending virtually would be counted toward a quorum, with full voting privileges.
The second most popular option, acceptable to 40.7% of our respondents, was to keep all meetings virtual for now.
Third most popular (33.3% approving) option was allowing both neighborhood councils and other bodies to choose whether or not they want to return to in-person meetings, based on what works best for that body or that particular meeting.
In fourth place was our “Hybrid 2” option – holding meetings that require all board members to attend and vote in person, but allow other (non-voting) attendees and speakers to participate virtually. This is what the city is currently proposing for neighborhood councils (and what it is already doing with other groups like the City Council and its committees)…but only 25.9% of our respondents found it an acceptable option.
And in last place, with only 18.5% of respondents saying they’d be happy with it, was a full return to in-person-only meetings, as was standard practice before the COVID-19 pandemic is officially required by the Brown Act.
Finally, a few people also chose to make more specific comments about their preferences. They said:
- “Times have changed. If Zoom meetings are dropped, attendance will plummet. Zoom meetings are well attended by members and public. Don’t abandon that inclusivity and ease of participation.”
- “I never attended GWNC meetings nor any other city meetings until Covid hit and they were available on ZOOM. At the time the meetings are held, always trying to take care of meals, home issues, don’t have to worry about driving, parking, etc. I became a much more informed person through these meetings. Love that attendees can speak off video when requested. I am on the board of SOHO, the little orphan, but these meetings let many of us become more involved and have our input heard.”
- “Them that vote should be there in person to make it harder to fake, and to improve quality of discussion… and probably some other reasons I’m blanking on. (It has been MANY HOURS since morning coffee.)”
- “As engagement has increased with online meetings and groups have now mastered the skill sets necessary to conduct them appropriately, why revert to a system designed to be less inclusive?”
- “There is a real feeling of community when residents attend a meeting in person in a group. That energy is hard to duplicate with Zoom meetings. However, Zoom participation is more convenient for many and is safer while Covid and other ills hit LA. Keeping at least the option for Zoom participation seems best. Though, what happens if citizens show up in person and committee members/city officials are all on Zoom. That would be odd and not useful.”
- “Virtual meetings are all the same. Only in person do we actually have a full experience. Virtual meetings serve an important purpose, but they should not be the way all meetings are held. My preference would be for all board members to gather in person, while allowing both in person and virtual attendance. Any board members who are concerned about covid or other viruses can wear masks. This is how it’s working everywhere else.”
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that most people responding to the poll (at least so far) were the same people who have been attending our neighborhood council and other meetings virtually during the pandemic.
Among our 27 respondents, slightly more than half (55.5%) have attended six or more GWNC board or committee meetings in the last year, with more than 40 percent saying they’ve attended 10 more more neighborhood council meetings. Since all meetings during that time have been virtual, these respondents are quite familiar with the current Zoom-based format of the meetings. Another 29.6% of respondents said they’ve attended between 1 and 5 meetings in the last year, so they, too, clearly have at least some experience with the current virtual meeting format. Only 14.8% of respondents said they have not attended any GWNC meetings in the last year.
But while most of our respondents have attended at least some virtual neighborhood council meetings in the last year, a clear majority – 59.3% – said they would be less likely to attend these meetings if they were held only in person. Another 25% said the likelihood of their attendance at in-person meetings would depend on the meeting. And only 11.1% said they would be more likely to attend meetings if they return to an in-person-only format.
Also, the preference for virtual meetings was even stronger for other kinds of city meetings, with 63% of respondents saying they’d be less likely to attend other in-person-only city meetings, and 29.6% saying it it would depend on the meeting. Only 7.4% said they would be more likely to attend in-person-only city meetings.
How to Get Involved
Currently, according to Department of Neighborhood Empowerment representative John Darnell at last week’s GWNC meeting, the city will likely require all neighborhood councils to return to in-person meetings in March. But there are a number of voices now speaking up in favor of continuing to allow at least some form of online meetings.
In September, City Councilmembers John Lee and John Buscaino filed a motion asking the city to report on options for neighborhood councils to continue to meet virtually (or in some sort of hybrid format), and to give them the flexibility to choose the meeting style that works best for them. To date, seven neighborhood councils have submitted statements supporting the motion, including the Mid City West Neighborhood Council.
Also, last week, two more city council motions were entered by Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martinez and John Lee (and seconded by Katy Yaroslavsky), and Bob Blumenfield and Paul Krekorian. These motions express support for official state-level amendments to the pre-COVID-era Brown Act that would allow for virtual or hybrid in-person/virtual meetings, especially for neighborhood councils.
The GWNC voted at its meeting last week to support both of these motions.
If you’d like to weigh in on the issue of returning to in-person meetings (for our local neighborhood councils and/or other city bodies), we’d love to hear from you. Our survey is still open and we invite you to fill it out if you haven’t already done so. And if you’d like to submit comments to the city council on any or all of the motions it is considering, go to the council file page for each motion – 23-0002-016 , 23-0002-017, and/or 22-1070 – then click on the red “New” icon near the top center of the page, and fill out the Public Comment Form that appears.
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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