Area cities begin conducting public meetings again

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Several area cities are beginning to reopen city council meetings to the public while others are maintaining meetings that are streamed online to the public as Los Angeles begins to move forward from the coronavirus pandemic. 

At the same time, summer recreational activities are beginning as cities hope to bring a sense of normalcy to youth and adults after sheltering in place for the last 15 months.

The steps taken by area cities align with the June 15 reopening of most indoor and large gatherings at 100% capacity authorized by Gov. Gavin Newsom, dropping the color-coded tiers used to monitor the pandemic’s intensity in counties that forced municipalities to conduct internet meetings using public comments emailed and phoned in. 

Downey conducted its first public meeting with in-person attendance June 22. 

City Councilman Sean Ashton said the City Hall chambers would reopen to capacity and doubted in-person participants would be required to don facial masks in future meetings. 

“I don’t think so, but again I’m not sure 100%,” he said. 

He said the City Hall ventilation system was fixed a few years ago, and it is efficient to avert a buildup of potential airborne particles from asymptomatic or unvaccinated people.

Cities and local businesses conducting meetings with members of the public still have to follow protocols mandated by the county’s Public Health Department. 

The health guidelines require unvaccinated people attending a government event or soliciting a service to wear masks indoors as they could pose risks to others still without the shots.  

The county’s website on business reopening indicates that any government office that serves the public can require everyone to wear a mask, regardless of being vaccinated, and require unvaccinated visitors to always have a face covering.  

Downey spokesperson Juddy Montenegro said safety measures at council meetings include staff asking the public to put masks on at council meetings if they have not been inoculated, plus signs at the door warning of risks associated with not wearing masks.

However, the city’s policy was to trust the people’s word as they came into the meeting. 

“We decided to have an honor system,” Montenegro said. “We are hoping people are honest.” 

Other cities, like Whittier, are not rushing. Officials there cited an executive order issued by Newsom early in the pandemic that allows municipalities to postpone reopening public meetings until they can better target, track and document potential new COVID-19 cases in a region where four out of 10 people still have not been vaccinated. 

Juan Esquivel, a Whittier city clerk representative, said the city will not hold in-person council meetings until further notice, despite the state announcement allowing local government to reopen public gatherings. 

“Not at the moment,” he said. “City public meetings got an extension from the governor’s office.” 

Commerce also will not hold open meetings until the city council reaches an agreement to reopen them to the public in September, said a city clerk representative. 

Lynwood announced on its website that it was reopening City Hall for public services starting June 21, but will continue to hold virtual council meetings, citing Newsom’s executive order to stay compliant with the Brown Act.  

However, South Gate has scheduled its first open council meeting for July 13 and Bell Gardens announced its City Hall reopening starting June 21, although all visitors are asked to wear masks inside the facility.   

Bell Gardens held its first council meeting allowing people indoors June 21. 

Paramount will reopen its council meetings to the public on July 6. Pico Rivera has not scheduled a restart for its in-person council meetings, but a staff member said that would happen after July.   

Huntington Park interim City Clerk Sergio Infanzon said city officials are evaluating current infection rates in the community and the ability to control potential outbreaks in line with guidelines from public health authorities before announcing a date for its first open meeting in more than a year.

The city’s elected governing body meets the first and third Tuesday of every month.

“I hope we will reopen for the public in the next council meeting, but it’s up to the administration to decide,” Infanzon said. 

Maywood City Hall is still closed to the general public, and visitors can obtain in-person services by booking an appointment. Bell held its June 23 council meeting virtually and canceled one scheduled for July 14. Similar to Maywood, Bell has not announced changes to its streamed formats.

In Norwalk, the city council plans to hold its first indoors meeting with public onsite on July 6, with a hybrid component to let online viewers participate with questions or public comments, said deputy city clerk Camille Moreno. 

On the recreational front, Downey prepared an online information brochure for sports and fitness programs slated to start this month. Downey’s Parks and Recreation Department opened registration for its swimming classes at the aquatic center on June18 at $64 and $68 per student. 

Camp Downey returned with changes to address the potential presence of COVID-19, requiring each camp to split in two groups of 15 children, to wear facemasks at all times and to maintain social distancing as much as possible. 

Downey’s Parks and Recreations Manager Jason Chacon said parents enrolled 45 kids each week for summer camp, and the department has room to accommodate up to 85.

Despite lingering concerns about potential COVID outbreaks, more than 100 fitness and sports classes are being offered in Downey this summer, and 25 to 40 instructors who lost their jobs temporarily would teach them. 

“Our goal as a department is to provide our community with recreational opportunities to be outside, active, socialize both in person, while also providing options virtually,” Chacon said in an email. 

Whittier plans to start its adult softball summer league on Aug. 1, with registrations starting on June 28 at a cost of $500 per team. However, basketball and volleyball games at the community center gym will be canceled until further notice due to its indoor settings and poor ventilation. 

The city reinstated its summer recreation program for kids ages 7 to 13 from June 7 through Aug. 6 to be held at three local parks for a $50 fee per child. Whittier also brought back the aquatics program, including private lessons for adults and children, and water aerobics at the Palm Park Aquatics Center.  

Likewise, Commerce reopened swimming classes and summer sports and fitness classes for children and adults, while Norwalk will bring its in-person summer recreation programs in July with protocols to avert virus spread.