Opinion: Letter to the Community

8
553

By Dave Kiff, Laguna Beach City Manager

Dear Laguna Beach neighbors:

We’ve gotten some good comments recently about adding back in an online platform (like Zoom) that would allow more people to offer their thoughts about city issues and items before the city council.

With the important caveat that I wasn’t here to experience the earlier Zoom bombing events in Laguna (such as the council meeting on Feb. 13), my previous employer had seen these, too. As I know you’ll agree, those interactions are traumatic for all, but especially for persons who may already feel marginalized or “othered” in society.

On the other hand, Zoom allows greater participation from many, including busy parents, seniors, mobility-impaired individuals and others who may not find it easy to attend in person.

Balancing the goals of increased access and ensuring that in-person attendees, council members, and city staff are somewhat protected from traumatizing speech isn’t easy. Because City Hall and council meetings are a workplace, we are especially aware of how we must avoid speech that can cause race-based, religion-based, or gender- or orientation-based trauma.

We did ask our city attorney to take a look at this and to specifically see if we could interrupt a person using hateful speech during a Zoom bombing. Here’s what she thought (and I’m paraphrasing):

The effective way to cut off or end hateful speech is to determine that the comments are out of line because the comments are unrelated to city business. But, if the city and community want to continue to have the city celebrate things like LGBTQ+ Pride month or Juneteenth, then someone making hateful speech might have a case that their hateful speech IS related to City business. In that instance, we’d likely have to endure the hateful speech.

I worry, too, that as November nears, the national discourse will get rougher. If (or when) that translates into local discourse—or non-local folks joining in on our discourse in a toxic way—then that will be both hard to stop and disruptive to community decorum and city business. It will also hurt those who can’t escape it (such as in-person audience members and our city workforce).

This is just my opinion, and I am not a council member of course, but it may make the most sense to keep watching the law and the technology to see if protections can be improved, and to revisit our online platforms after November.

In the meantime, I know that all of us want to hear your voices—whether that be in person, via email or by letter—and we warmly invite you to participate in the city council meetings. Find out more about how you can participate on the city website at lagunabeachcity.net.

Thanks for your patience and understanding as we navigate this. Your involvement is essential as we work to ensure safe and inclusive participation for all. As always, I enjoy hearing from you on this and any other city issue – you can always email me directly at [email protected].

Share this:

8 COMMENTS

  1. My take away after reading this is your choice is not to test the ZOOM process at all. Inclusive communication thus is not a consideration. The decision reflects Council leadership’s history over the past four years to not communicate with, or respond to its residents questions, and or concerns. We voters then need to realign our Council with our voting power. If former mayor Bob Whalen runs again, lets start by not re electing him.

  2. “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Voltaire
    Oh, great, City Hall gets to decide what we should or shouldn’t observe, defines “decorum” and “toxicity,” what’s fitting.
    That’s pretty Orwellian, isn’t it?.
    As our City kicks the can down the road like Kiff does here (he seems already infected by the BIG 4), by the time the dust has settled and holidays over, come New Years we’ll be closing in on a year of a “Zoom Gag Order.”
    Q.: Why didn’t the City Attorney tell our IT dude to just shut them down when they began their rants? Let them litigate, by doing so we’d find out who they were and where they resided, been worth the legal defense IMO.
    Publish their names and legal addresses from their 1st amendment court challenge, i.e., call their bluff in the public square.
    I bet they wouldn’t file, that was the gambit our CA should have advised our Council to perform.
    Q.: As one person suggested, can’t we limit participation to those who must launch video to accompany their statements? No masks allowed as a rule too? Then we could use facial recognition apps. To make all of us suffer for one incident (although we did get some free porno when we first launched Zoom at the start of Covid) is a form of suppression.
    Rules should be transparently discussed and codified as a priority RIGHT NOW. Violators sent to the cornfield, banished forever.
    Participants agree to the terms and conditions in order to log on, and must create an account first too—-these things CAN be traced if diligent.
    That’s NOT rocket science folks, these participants can be tracked and outed, using the public pillory via the stated terms and conditions.
    Kiff looks like the same old same old from City Hall: Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss.
    And who in their right natural mind believes that Kiff just riffed, was free-styling?
    He only needs to count to 3, and if you believe that he didn’t run it by or was advised on word-smithing by our Council (probably the Mayor), didn’t run it past her/them for approval (it’s also published in that other Laguna online), then I definitely have some swamp in Florida to sell you as high value lake/beach front property.

  3. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”, this is what the calls remind me of..but instead we allow the hateful power to control us. I thought we were adults. No, we are following the agenda of sensitivity..and somebody’s feelings might get hurt even when it is some nut not from our community calling names over the phone.Let’s see, that lasted about 6 minutes and now we can’t have zoom for months..It’s just best that we cut the community off and inconvenience them by having to go without dinner and sit for hours with bad speakers and hard seats to make a comment. Great! So now as usual the city manager comes forward and agrees, Is this the way it is going to continue to go..
    The city business and what it means for the taxpayers that pay it all just doesn’t matter. I know of two CC members that definitely do not want to hear our voice with BIG things happening they want to buy the LCR and Coast Hwy, they want to put 72 affordable units in one small place and devalue a neighborhood with mass and automobiles all over the place, and then they are hoping to raise our taxes to pay for all these things. Let’s see $3 million for studies on the canyon which makes no sense at all and then we can add many millions in staff, liability and maintenance yearly, But what about your sewer issues? More band-aids? After all another $80 million for that. No we have nothing to talk about right?
    Just send a letter that no one responds too…Great, Just like Washington..

  4. At the bottom is an excerpt from the Santa Margarita Water District’s notice for its June 18, 2024 BOD meeting.
    Full disclosure, I am an independent (out-sourced) consultant to them going into my 13th year working for the District, the largest in SOC.
    SMWD is represented by the same law firm as us: Best, Best & Krieger (BBK).
    Since lockdown was officially terminated by the Governor, many public agencies, not just SMWD, have found a workaround: By declaring teleconference participation a “convenience,” the virtual component is NOT considered a legal requirement.
    I think this both removes and inures (shelters) any Brown Act and/or 1st Amendment challenges.
    SMWD doesn’t require formal registration, potential candidates availing themselves, providing proof of name and address in advance to speaking, but I’m wondering if they could?
    And why couldn’t we?
    As yet I have no knowledge of our City’s leadership or legal counsel discussing let alone investigating such a signup and sign in.
    If they haven’t, why not? This is one of THE largest and most prestigious law firms around. I praised their hiring, and if I’ve thought of this way to increase security, why haven’t they?
    Worser (thanks Keith Olbermann), I was online and both our Mayor, CM and CA looked like Bambi in the headlights of a MAC Truck on a country road at midnight: Scared out of their wits, panicked, no idea on how to react to the racist slurs spewed that night.

    “This meeting will be held in person. As a convenience for the public, the meeting may also be accessed by Microsoft Teams and will be available by either computer or telephone audio as indicated below. Because this is an in-person meeting and the virtual component is not required, but rather is being offered as a convenience, if there are any technical issues during the meeting, this meeting will continue and will not be suspended.”

  5. To be clear our city council, former and current Mayor’s choice is not to test the ZOOM process and Inclusive communication. This is not about party affiliation it’s about them not respecting and guaranteeing our rights to be heard by the first amendment, Brown Act, and personal respect.

    I don’ t like to misuse words, or hear them if they are not fact, but I feel all, but 1 voice on the council is rigged. I think we can unite on our rights and realign the problem. Make it fair again. I want to start by voting Whalen out if he runs again. And let’s consider petitioning to have Council investigate itself. I have had enough of this monopoly. Stop spending our money, bring order. Will you Join me?

  6. It is so outrageous for our current CC Super Majority who willingly sat through former City Council Member Peter Blake’s regular insults, disrespect, put downs, slander, taunts, and publicly abuse of fellow CC Members, Residents, and just about anyone with a divergent opinion from his own for two tumultuous years!

    Our CC Super Majority is now so hypersensitive that We the citizens are to be excluded from conveying concerns via ZOOM at CC Council meetings. I sat in multiple CC Meetings and listened to Sue Kempf repeat “Now Peter, Peter, Peter, like she was reprimanding a 6 year old, trying (in vain) to contain her ungovernable advocator. Now, in Peter’s place we have “Data Driven” Alex, (LOL) I have said this previously, just “Peter Blake Light”. Alex regularly votes “against” the “data” that he promised to be “driven by” when he ran for CC.

    This is a total laugh. (but, not funny) Our illustrious CC Super Majority tolerated so much more from their counterpart Peter Blake as he was angrily ranting in CC Sessions. How disingenuous to exclude Us Citizens when they allowed Blake to release regular multiple tirades, criticisms and verbal attacks on, well, just about anyone and everyone without anything more than a wink and a nod from Sue Kempf and Bob Whalen.

    My last communication from Peter Blake came in the form of an email sent from “The City of Laguna Beach”. He said, “F___ O__ Loser” he did not bother to omit the “UCK or the “FF”

    Unbelievable but true.

  7. It’s disappointing to hear that our City leaders have taken a position to not allow LB residents the same public communication zoom call-in option that many other cities do. Fact is, many cities who experienced uncomfortable similar engagements found ways to address the issue. They are not choosing to use isolated cases of unacceptable public outbursts as a reason to deny their own citizens to speak publicly to the City Council and their community because they cannot physically get to a meeting.

    I find it interesting that residents and some council members spent four years of being verbally abused by personal and professional name-calling and intimidation at CC meetings/and Zoom by a Council member and also endured false public accusations by a former City Manager and our Mayors/MPT’s did absolutely nothing to stop it. Why take such drastic measures now?

    CM Kiff, it’s appearing that you support the Council majority practice started in 2018 of shutting out residents voices. This is truly disappointing and no way to build community trust and support. Using the upcoming November election as a reason to withhold public communication because you are worried is also concerning. Listening to the public is required of public officials and they should not get to manipulate and control public feedback related to their service and performance. Especially during an election year.

    I submitted the informational letter below to you and Council members listing some cities that respect their stakeholders and found ways to allow them to participate in their civic government via Zoom. NO response from any of you although you state here: “In the meantime, I know that all of us want to hear your voices—whether that be in person, via email or by letter—and we warmly invite you to participate in the city council meetings.”

    I ask that City leaders rethink the position announced here and resume the Zoom call-in option. It’s simply not acceptable to all residents/voters of Laguna Beach. Thank you.

    # # #

    Dear City Council:
    Everyone gets that Zoom can be abused. Right here in Laguna Beach our City Council was blasted by Zoom bombers. They ranted on with hate speech for a few minutes before the situation was handled.

    That can even happen at in-person meetings, so do we silence all public participation via Zoom because of a few bad apples? Of course not.

    Actually, the problem is easier to fix with on-line tools than at in-person meetings: Here’s a list of several California cities that have figured out the best-of-both-worlds, and welcomes on-line participation from residents.

    Los Angeles
    San Diego
    Irvine
    Yorba Linda
    San Juan Capistrano
    Santa Monica
    Whittier
    National city
    Alameda
    Palos Verdes
    Del Mar
    Pasadena
    Union City
    Sonoma
    Mountain View
    Palm Springs

    WHY can’t OUR City figure this out and return this communication option to its residents?

    By not allowing Zoom call-in public communication you are making it most difficult for all citizens to give input on important topics affecting our property investments, environmental and family quality of life issues impacting us. Also, many residents travel throughout the year, are working professionals, are seniors and/or students who cannot always attend regular meetings. This is unfair to all LB Stakeholders.

    Please direct our legal counsel to contact the cities mentioned above to return this public civic communication option asap.

    Thank you,
    MJ Abraham
    Resident and Founder LBCHAT

  8. Sorry, City Manager Kiff, but I’m not buying your arguments against Zoom.

    Especially not when so many other communities have returned to its use.

    It’s no secret that there are City Council majority members who loathe public comments and see them as an annoyance and waste of time. When in reality, public comments are the lifeblood of democracy. But not to these public officials, as they’ve evidenced absolutely no effort or desire to hear their constituents. Much easier for these officials to do whatever they want when residents don’t have a say.

    If other cities can let their residents speak out, so can ours. Anything less is a cheap, weak excuse to deny residents of their rights and silence the public.

    Do the right thing. Bring back Zoom.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here