In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-29-20, suspending open public meeting requirements under the Brown Act and Bagley-Keene Act thereby allowing state and local public agencies – including Boards of Supervisors, City Councils and Planning Commissions – to meet by teleconference without requiring a physical meeting place for members of the public to convene. Since that time, Zoom-based public meetings have become ubiquitous.
Executive Order N-29-20 was set to expire last month on June 15, 2021 – the same date that the state of California marked its official re-opening as the Governor lifted a number of prior COVID-related public health orders and restrictions. However, in a letter to the Governor, an association of cities and other public agencies expressed concern that returning to conducting public hearings in person would require additional time and revamped logistics to ensure continued public health and safety.
To that end, the Governor’s office announced in a June 2, 2021 response letter that public agencies would be permitted to continue holding public meetings virtually, with no expiration date set at that time. The Governor’s office also committed to providing advance notice ahead of any termination of Executive Order N-29-20 to give state and local agencies sufficient time to transition and comply with applicable open meeting legal requirements.
On June 11, 2021, the Governor formalized this guidance through issuance of Executive Order N-08-21, extending the public meeting exceptions through September 30, 2021. Until that time, or as otherwise extended, public agencies may continue to convene remotely and, if they do so, must allow members of the public to observe and participate in meetings telephonically or electronically through that date.
Some local public agencies across the Bay Area are anticipated to hold off on returning to in-person hearings until the expiration of the public meeting exceptions, although others are exploring earlier returns in summer 2021. As public agencies begin to navigate their own re-openings, it is likely, but not yet certain, that some jurisdictions will offer hybrid opportunities for public participation in addition to in-person attendance, including continued use of teleconference and/or online video platforms such as Zoom.