SB 411 brings possibility of virtual option for neighborhood council meetings
Pictured is the North Westwood Neighborhood Council. Senate Bill 411 would allow neighborhood council meetings to be held using a virtual option, if approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Sept. 23, 2023 11:55 a.m.
Senate Bill 411, which would allow neighborhood council meetings to be held with a virtual option, passed through the California State Senate earlier this month.
The bill was approved in the Senate on Sept. 6 and has yet to be approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom. If signed, neighborhood councils will have to individually approve whether to use the teleconferencing option with two-thirds majority vote.
Thomas Soong, the director of policy and government relations in the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, said the bill would allow neighborhood councils to use a teleconferencing option that has been limited since rules changed after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When COVID was an emergency, neighborhood councils were allowed to meet virtually, and … I think what I saw was that some people liked it because that took away the travel time,” Soong said. “(People) don’t have to drive to the locations, and … for most, it allows more accessibility.”
Soong added that he thinks the bill could allow for more participation in neighborhood council meetings, especially for parents with kids, people with disabilities and those who don’t live near meeting locations.
Evan Curran, a North Westwood Neighborhood Council at-large stakeholder and a third-year public affairs student, said he thinks the possibility for virtual meetings will also allow for greater participation by community members, as seen during the pandemic.
“We saw that the public participation was much greater, and also just the diversity of people who were able to speak at these meetings was much greater,” Curran said. “With the passage of SB 411, we’re really going to see … the participation in these meetings really increase, and then also just the fact that the council members themselves are still going to be in-person. … We’re going to be having the best of both worlds.”
Jacob Wasserman, the NWWNC worker stakeholder, said he thinks the option for virtual meetings is important to neighborhood councils because of the differences between neighborhood councils and other government bodies in terms of their stakeholders and meeting spaces.
He said planning a meeting that fits all participants’ schedules is difficult since neighborhood councils include those who don’t live in the district but may be members of a community organization.
“That means that planning for in-person meetings when all these different stakeholders may live quite far away, but be in Westwood for part of the day – it makes planning difficult,” he said.
He added that having to arrange for a location each month because of most neighborhood councils’ lack of designated meeting space adds to the difficulty.
Nuha Khalfay, an NWWNC general resident stakeholder, said she thinks the legislation would allow for more flexibility and better attendance at board and committee meetings. She added that although she does believe that in-person meetings allow for more connection with the community, the option for virtual meetings makes attending meetings more accessible.
“I think that it’s a great tool for us to have in our toolbox for when board members or members of the public aren’t able to make it in person, but it certainly can’t replace the in-person connection aspect,” Khalfay said.