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Palo Alto City Council in no rush to restore in-person meetings

Original post made on Jun 2, 2021

After more than a year of meeting over Zoom from the comforts of their homes, members of the Palo Alto City Council are in no rush to return to their traditional perch in the Council Chambers.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 2, 2021, 12:29 AM

Comments (12)

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2021 at 8:49 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I'm no expert on this, but it does seem sound to me that the Brown Act should be updated and that seems like a good idea.

However, there are pros and cons in not returning to in person meetings. It does mean that someone is at the mercy of the internet and that can let us down, it also means that someone who is not tech savvy may lose the opportunity to speak. It may also be too easy to take part which is the flip side of the coin. If someone is really going to take time out of their lives to go to a meeting at City Hall to have their 2 minutes to speak, that shows the importance they have made to do so. If all they have to do is sit at home while doing other things perhaps they just want to get something off their chest rather than have something they really want to say.

Having spent time at meetings and having my turn to speak has been difficult to do, I have only done it for something I have very strong feelings. It would be so much easier to zoom in and out of a meeting, but would it have carried the same weight?

Posted by Jeffrey Lane
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 2, 2021 at 8:53 am

Jeffrey Lane is a registered user.

In many ways using ZOOM conferencing in lieu of in-person council meetings makes sense.

The council members are now free from direct eye-contact with the public and can easily avoid any possible verbal confrontations that may arise.

They can also mute dissent and carry on in semi-oblivion of the residents in attendence.

ZOOM conferencing will eliminate the need to commute to City Hall and PACC members can govern the affairs of Palo Alto from the ease and comfort of their homes.

They can also excuse themselves at anytime during the meeting whether it be for a quick run to the bathroom or for a snack.

Covid-19 related precautions and the variant mutations lend credence to this new practice as well.

We are now living in a world of high-tech communications and interaction where person-to-person contact is no longer relevant or even needed.

Like when was the last time you ever spoke directly to a customer service rep over the phones without ever having to go through a menu option?

The PACC menu option will now be your ZOOM login, mute button, and leave meeting choices.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2021 at 12:37 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I think that making these meetings virtually available to residents who need or want that option so they can be included is terrific. However, I strongly believe our elected representatives should make themselves available by meeting in person at City Hall with the people . Face-to-face interactions are quite different. Some members of Council have gotten so comfortably disconnected from the public they no longer answer phone calls.

Virtual meetings are heavily controlled by staff and they prevent citizens from seeing each other--which is an important part of the public process. Getting people (including electeds) together in an environment where they can listen and respond to each other and work toward creative solutions and consensus is critically important. People who are not physically present for each other are far less likely to do this important work successfully.

Increasingly, I see residents yelling at staff and electeds. I see people who virtually step in to advocate for a personal point of view without participating in the whole meeting to hear other points of view. This is the most important part of public process. It is how citizens arrive at consensus in democracy. Physical proximity enables us to read expressions better, to be more responsive to each other. It also helps us FEEL the need to work together instead of just winning an argument. The well researched deficiencies of virtual meetings make it very difficult to get community consensus around controversial issues.

Staff and Council rar badly out off touch, and they don't even know it.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2021 at 12:50 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

To Jeffrey Lane....Yes. And customer service is truly awful today with very few exceptions among corporations who tend to use tech to push their administrative housekeeping to their customers and separate themselves from pesky service problems. "Fill out this form. Give us reams of private information, and MAYBE we will get back to you with a text message to help YOU solve the problem you are having with our product/service." Customer service has become customer abuse.

Virtual meetings are a slippery slope in democracy. Do we want our electeds and city staff to separate themselves from us that way? I can see why they might want that, but do WE, the people, want that?

Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 2, 2021 at 1:46 pm

SRB is a registered user.

Jury Trials have resumed in person for a while now. Locally elected leaders who are acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, should resume attending public meetings in person asap; and if that's inconvenient they should pick a different job or hobby.
Hybrid mode is fine for anybody else as long as it doesn't over-complicate or over-extend the meetings.
One big ethical benefit of in person meetings is that all business is done above the table and eye to eye, on zoom there is no such table nor eye to eye contact (council members can chat/text with each other, with lobbyists , with developers or leave the meeting all together or doze off during public comment).

Posted by PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Jun 2, 2021 at 1:56 pm

PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

This is a VERY VERY BAD IDEA. Using zoom to hold public meetings is anti-democratic and allows elected officials to not be held accountable by their constituents and the broader public. It allows public comment to be shut down and ultimately leads to elected officials thwarting the will of the people. It allows our representatives to run roughshod when they do not have to see the people, when they don't make eye contact, and don't feel the energy in the room. We must return to "regular order" if we want to remain a representative democracy.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Downtown North

on Jun 2, 2021 at 1:58 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 2, 2021 at 2:32 pm

Rose is a registered user.

I agree with the majority of the opinions here. City Council meetings should be in person. Zooming might be convenient but real human contact is terribly important.

Posted by Patrick Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 2, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Patrick Burt is a registered user.

To clarify, the council supported the staff recommendation to pursue a "hybrid" approach going forward. That model would be basically a return to in-person council meetings with full in-person participation by the public, along with adding the ability for the public to participate remotely.

Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 2, 2021 at 3:24 pm

SRB is a registered user.

@Patrick Burt - In person for council and Hybrid for others? IMO Council has to be in person, there is no way otherwise to insure that city decisions are truly made in public (i.e. all above board without side communications and for all to see).

Posted by Patrick Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 2, 2021 at 3:54 pm

Patrick Burt is a registered user.

Yes, the council would be in person with probably liberalized policies on occasional remote participation.

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 2, 2021 at 4:41 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Why should the City Council agree to face-to-face meetings??? Online meetings stifle debate and dissent, prevent demonstrations, and keep the bureaucrats safe, warm, and at home. If you look at the USA today, powerful people are hiding in safety because they can afford it, while the rest of us are being encouraged to risk our health and lives at overcrowded and under-masked gyms, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, churches, schools, malls, etc. And both the alt-Left and alt-Right fools are pushing "reopening" far too soon. Seems like highly intelligent moderates like me once again are in a grave minority relative other ignorant people; because we're driven by "common sense driven by intelligence and advance education." Beam me up, Scotty. There is little intelligent life in the USA.

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