Opinion: Time to End Virtual City Council Meetings

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On this week’s City Council agenda is a ‘Consent Calendar’ item for the City Council, as well as all other boards and commissions, to continue to meet virtually. The Consent Calendar is a number of items that are grouped together for the Council to vote on as one item. Tuesday the consent calendar has eight items.

Any Councilmember can have one of the items pulled from the consent calendar for the entire Council to discuss and vote on separately. Meeting virtually should be pulled and discussed.

A staff report with the item states the reason to continue to hold virtual meetings is that “As a result of the statewide emergency due to the COVID Pandemic (Pandemic), holding any City Council, Board, Commission or Committee meeting in person would present imminent risk to the health or safety of attendees.”

I agreed with this in the past and as people who know me also know, I was more than happy to stay in my home office as long as we had mask rules and the threat was high. I got to know many DoorDash and Amazon Grocery drivers during the two years very well.

Once the vaccine became available, I got my doses as recommended and was a proponent of not only people getting vaccinated, but supported the City’s Vaccination Policy. At the same time, I have grown tired of wearing a mask indoors because we have to protect the unvaccinated, among other reasons.

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As of Friday, February 25, the County has modified its Health Order to allow people to enter buildings without masks as long as they can show proof of vaccination or a negative test within 48 hours. There is even a link to this on the staff report.

As we now know, all Councilmembers, Board and Commission members, as well as staff are all vaccinated and have shown proof to officials.

Picture was taken and posted by a Senator Portantino staff member on @Portantino of the five Councilmembers and the Senator posing for a picture this past Saturday

I find it hard to see how the Council can still now call this an “imminent risk to the health or safety of attendees” when they meet in public and in far more close-quarters than they would in the Council Chamber. On Saturday, they all met together at the Garry Marshall Theatre in support of the Burbank Arts Beautification Program with State Senator Anthony Portantino. Yet they still find it a risk to sit a lot further apart in the Council Chamber?

Burbank’s Board of Education will once again meet in person in the same Council Chambers on Thursday which is still considered a risk by City of Burbank staff members.

There have been a few times in the past year-plus that Councilmembers have been a little contentious with each other, which when you watch in context, seems sometimes just to be a misunderstanding.

Once Councilmembers are back in person with each other, instead of over video screens, they are able to look each other in the eye and relate to each other in a more human way which may calm down a situation before it happens.

As far as the public goes, they can also require members of the public to prove vaccination or show a test result and they can also block out chairs so that people could not sit next to each other. They can also keep the phone-in comments to make people feel more comfortable who do not wish to venture out yet. These are the people who create laws, I a sure they can create a safe environment to have an in-person meeting.

After Tuesday’s meeting, the Council is not scheduled to meet again until March 15, and by that time, possibly even more lenient health guidelines may be in effect or proposed.

It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime.

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