The freshly minted city council in Irvine, California, voted 4–1 on Dec. 8 to permanently extend a policy that requires two council members to support an item before it can be put on the agenda.
The idea is to efficiently limit council discussion to items that more than one member feels are of importance. However, opponents of the policy argue that an item may be of interest to only one member, but even so may be of interest to the thousands of residents that one member represents.
The limitation has been scrutinized by the public, both last year when it was first adopted and in recent months when the council was considering whether to let the rule expire (it was set to expire at the end of 2020). The topic received 91 electronic comments that were read aloud during the meeting. Many commenters voiced opposition.
The council was originally set to vote on the clause in November, but decided to push it back until the new council term began.
The vote now makes the policy permanent—but City Attorney Jeff Melching said that since the policy wasn’t enacted as an ordinance, it would only require a simple majority vote to set the rules back to how they were pre-2019.
During the meeting, Mayor Farrah Khan endorsed the item.
“I feel that in the past, it has helped me get to know my councilmembers a little better. It’s helped me to get to work with them a little bit more. I really feel this council does better when it’s able to work together,” Khan said.
“At the end of the day, if a councilmember is unable to get a second, they’re always able to bring the item forward during announcements to get it on the agenda.”
An exception to the rule is that it allows the mayor to bring forth any item to the agenda without needing the support of any other councilmember.
Councilmember Anthony Kuo also voiced his support, saying, “It allows for this council to focus on business where there’s consensus.”
Councilmember Larry Agran, who was sworn in hours before the meeting began, was the only member to disagree with the policy.
“I’m having a problem understanding what problem was this new rule designed to address,” he said. “For 48 years, the city council conducted its meetings in a very open way that gave all members of the council, and indeed the public through those members, an opportunity to agendize, discuss, and deal with aspects of municipal code. I think that process served the city well.”
Agran said the requirement “suggests to me a way of excluding debate and discussion, even introduction on items that may be only of interest to one councilmember, or one councilmember and the 30 or 40 or 50 thousand people who voted for him or her. This doesn’t make sense to me.”
Councilmember Tammy Kim, who was voted in as vice mayor, said that while she was at first skeptical of the policy, she has seen during the past year that it has been effective. She also touched on comments that said the rule would oppress minority voices.
“I also viewed this from a lens of equity and inclusion and social justice as well, because I’m reading and considering the various comments that are out there, and it’s still not really clear to me how this is somehow oppressing minority voices in some way, especially when we have three out of the five council members are people of color from multicultural and diverse communities.”