Persistent ‘Zoom-bombing’ forces council to adjourn meeting early

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By Tasmin McGill, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach city officials and residents were bombarded with racial, homophobic, and antisemitic remarks during Laguna Beach City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday.

Unidentified individuals spent their allotted time during public comment hurling hate-filled rhetoric from a Zoom screen either with a photo or just an alias, leading to an early conclusion of the meeting.

Laguna Beach City Attorney Megan Garibaldi addresses council members during Tuesday’s city council meeting. Screenshot/City of Laguna Beach YouTube

According to the statement released by Laguna’s Interim City Manager Sean Joyce, Zoom bombing is a tactic that is aimed at disrupting meetings on the video-conferencing platform and often includes the use of offensive material and language like what was used during Tuesday’s meeting.

“There is, unfortunately, right now a trend at city meetings to what we call ‘Zoom-bomb.’ In effect, to try to test the city government,” Laguna Beach’s City Attorney Megan Garibaldi explained.

Following the first three disrupters, the council decided to suspend public comments due to reaching the 30-45 minute time slot for non-agenda items.

However, the disruptions did not stop for long.

Once public comment opened on the second agenda item, someone claiming to be a 14-year Laguna resident began their comment by stating their opposition to a permanent Promenade following the previous commenters’ stances on the agenda item. However, the speaker quickly used the public comment platform to spew antisemitic and racial rhetoric.

Not even 30 seconds into the commenter’s allotted three minutes, Garibaldi attempted to steer the speaker back to the agenda item at hand by reiterating that this public comment section was for comments only related to the Promenade’s Ad Hoc Committee.

“As we have speakers that continue to use profane and hateful language and continue to make statements that we believe have no place in civilized society, we at the same time recognize that the Brown Act and the First Amendment have regulations that allow for free speech,” Garibaldi said. “This is frustrating for the council. This is frustrating for the community. It is embarrassing for us.”

Garibaldi further advised those attending the meeting in person and virtually to leave the room or mute their volume if offended by the language of the speaker. She stated that they would be alerted when the comments were over.

However, that time would stretch for an additional 10 minutes following a 14-minute recess.

Within the last 10 minutes of the meeting, in-person attendees began to chant in an attempt to drown out the commenters. One even called out the potential use of fake names by the Zoom attendees.

“I thought the Brown Act said, ‘if it was disruptive, you could stop them,” one city council meeting attendee is heard saying off camera.

The comment calls into question how Laguna Beach will move forward to prevent situations like this.

It is expected that the city will adjust protocols to prevent Zoom bombing at future meetings and still allow residents to discuss topics about the development of the city through the platform, according to Joyce in the released statement.

“On behalf of my City Council colleagues, I regret the distressing incident of ‘Zoom bombing’ that disrupted our meeting,” Kempf said in the Feb. 13 statement that the city released shortly after the abrupt end to the meeting. “Together, we will continue to uphold our values of inclusivity, respect, and integrity. We extend our gratitude to the dedicated staff and officials who handled the situation with professionalism and commend those who attended the meeting.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. To our City Council Members, City Attorney, City Interim Manager, Dedicated Staff and Officials, and fellow community members –

    I am truly sorry for those who had to deal with this malicious annoyance in person on Tuesday night.

    As Mayor Sue Kempf stated after this meeting “Together we will continue to uphold our values of inclusivity, respect and integrity”. The choice is ours fellow residents, stop the spread of hate within our community and country, or stand by as it metastasizes.

    In almost every case, we have a City Council and staff comprised of thoughtful, dedicated, measured, experienced, well qualified individuals. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the country with strong governance that supports a well functioning community.

    There is no shortage of people in this country who want to start a race war. We have a candidate for president of the U.S. who gives all these white supremacists cover to embrace and enact this hatred. Stand up to this, fellow residents, vote and be a voice against this movement. Stand with your city by striving for positive change. There are countless opportunities such as volunteering at the Laguna Food Pantry, working to protect the tide pools, distributing Meals on Wheels for our elderly residents, etc., use your energy and make a positive difference in our town.

    Perhaps the Zoom participants who want to make public comment on an agenda topic can be reserved only for verified residents. Further, it would be a beneficial use of city resources and time if residents who attend meetings regularly, and write in week after week to the Indy, would keep the comments factual and relevant to the agenda item discussion. I’ve attended many Council meetings where the city officials, and other meeting attendees, are subjected to listening to hateful comments and personal attacks from a small group of locals toward Council and staff.

    Let’s foster a framework of intrinsic values, some mentioned in this Indy article by Mayor Kempf, and be the place that protects and acts on the needs of the greater community and environment around us. Let’s repudiate this bombardment of racial, homophobia and antisemitic conduct.

  2. All city meetings should still be on ZOOM and on COX without comment ability so residents can monitor meetings. Those that wish to participate can attend the public meetings.

    Frankly, I was deeply disappointed that at the time of the highly prejudiced and racist hate speech interference Mayor Kempf our leader had nothing to say about the behavior what so ever. Only after the meeting did she say anything, and we learned that from this article. We had to wait on written comment days later. There is no place for hate, defamation and this level, or any discrimination in Laguna Beach, or any place on this planet. A strong leader would have made zero tolerance for this behavior clear to everyone at the time it happened.

  3. Interesting Becky. We must not be attending the same meetings. Facts are what most people use in their comments. You may not like the facts, but saying they aren’t given is false. It’s a shame that you have your point of view and anything that disagrees with that you denigrate. And from what I’ve read in the papers there is no one group to whom to attribute these zoom attacks. How do you know that “a candidate for president of the U.S. who gives all these white supremacists cover to embrace and enact this hatred” is behind the motivation of these vile people? Proof please before you espouse your “theories”.

  4. Nice that everyone can weigh in with their viewpoint, Michele. All the same, no where in your response to my views on the Indy’s article do you disavow the racial, homophobia and antisemitic remarks that were bombarded at our city officials and fellow residents. Is that not the point of the article written by Journalist Tasmin McGill, Special to the Indy? There is no place for the behavior that evening in a civil society.
    In response to your defense of the former president, my statement was “We have a candidate for president of the U.S. who gives all these white supremacists cover to embrace and enact this hatred.” I never claimed to know who is behind the motives of this group. Obviously I hold that the former president’s actions galvanize such behaviors as those that we saw at the recent council meeting. The same man who is facing 91 criminal counts, in four separate prosecutions ranging from election fraud, hiding classified documents, hush money payments, and has been convicted of financial fraud and defamation of a journalist and author.
    I’ve sat through many meetings where you and your group share your point of view as facts, directed at most of our city council members and staff. I personally find that a waste of city resources and time, but you’re entitled to your opinion.
    As we know, every individual has the right to freedom of speech in our country. We don’t always agree, in fact many of us never agree. Nonetheless it’s our constitutional right.

  5. Rebecca Visconti – I think we can all agree that what happened during our council meeting was disgusting. Sadly it is a national trend and we like other cities have to deal with it and make good decision moving forward. I personally don’t think shutting down our zoom public communication is the answer. Other cities are looking at governing practices and legal ways to address such instances. We should too. Enforcing our Decorum and Civility Policy is a start. It’s been ignored and rendered useless by those serving as Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem’s since 2019. Strengthening it now seems in order.

    Your statement: “Further, it would be a beneficial use of city resources and time if residents who attend meetings regularly, and write in week after week to the Indy, would keep the comments factual and relevant to the agenda item discussion. I’ve attended many Council meetings where the city officials, and other meeting attendees, are subjected to listening to hateful comments and personal attacks from a small group of locals toward Council and staff” – isn’t accurate, positive nor does it nurture peace and harmony in our community.

    Maybe stop disparaging fellow community members and trying so hard to shut down residents from pursuing local government information and asking for accountability and transparency from their elected’s. FYI – good city leaders don’t take offense to stakeholder inquiries. Those that do will never be effective and shouldn’t hold public office.

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