The regularly scheduled City Council meeting this past Wednesday was canceled for what city spokesman John Pope called a “lack of substantive agenda items.’’
But that didn’t stop 20 or so residents from showing up at City Hall, at the canceled meeting’s scheduled start time of 7:30 p.m., to hold their own version of the public comments period that’s always on the council’s agenda.
Never mind that the Council Chambers were shuttered and that no council members were around to listen.
“The City Council has canceled six of its meetings so far this year — more than a quarter,’’ said Chris Bray, a resident of Grace Drive and a local activist whose plan it was to organize the impromptu public-comments session. He had spread word of his plan on local social media.
“We’ve having less and less discussion,” he said, adding that “a trend is underway where we’re losing the chance to talk to each other.”
What particularly chapped Bray and some of the residents who spoke at the gathering was that — with Election Day on Nov. 5 — this would have been the last City Council meeting at which two local ballot measures could have been given a spotlight, helping educate voters.
Measure A would impose a quarter-cent local sales tax. Measure C will decide whether the city will continue to have an elected city clerk, as opposed to an appointed one.
“There’s been no education effort, no forums,” Bray said. “We have a tremendous problem in this city just talking to each other.”
He called the latest cancellation, “an ongoing reduction of public debate.’’
Delaine Shane of Meridian Avenue echoed that thought, saying, “We’re talking now, but it should be in the context of the City Council.”
Pope, the city spokesman, was not among those who gathered outside the Council Chambers, but in an interview with the Review, he denied the city was muzzling public comment with its cancellations.
“Absolutely not,’’ he said. “The city welcomes input from all our residents, and there are multiple opportunities to do that at all our council meetings.’’
Pope acknowledged that, so far this year, six council meetings have been canceled. But he said four of them were “planned cancellations” — including Jan. 2 around the New Year’s holiday; April 3 around a spring break; July 3 around the Independence Day Holiday; and Sept. 4 around Labor Day.
He said only two — Aug. 7 and Wednesday night’s scheduled meeting — were scotched for other reasons, both of those cases being “lack of substantive agenda items.”
He also pointed out that Wednesday’s cancellation had been approved by the council during the Oct. 2 meeting, in public.
“There was nothing behind it other than procedural,’’ Pope said of Wednesday’s cancellation. “There was very little of substance for this agenda, so in the circumstances when that happens they choose to cancel the meeting rather than just hold a meeting to hold a meeting.’’
Pope also said the Aug. 21 meeting, which was originally canceled for a summer holiday break as per the approved calendar, was later put back on the schedule and held as a regular meeting.
In addition, he said, the scheduled Nov. 20 meeting — around Thanksgiving — has also been canceled by council approval.
The council’s regular schedule is to meet on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
Shane said that, on Wednesday, had she been given the chance, she would have spoken out in opposition to Measure C.
John Biesek of Charter Oak Street said he was all set to raise his concerns that future Caltrans work on the 110 — widening certain areas — will increase traffic speed and increase accident dangers.
Anne Bagasao of Mission Street said she would have urged the council to push for protection for renters against evictions.
John Srebalus of Lyndon Street said he would have spoken out against Measure A, calling it “a regressive tax” that will hit “the working class, the working poor and the homeless” disproportionately.
Bray, the event’s organizer, had pointed out on social media, “The next open session council meeting will be held on November 6 – which is, by a remarkable coincidence, the day after the election.’’
“That means that there will be no more opportunities for anyone to offer public comment before the whole community, in council chambers and with a live video stream, until the election is already over,’’ he said.