Legal Alerts Mar 06, 2019

No Committee Exception to Brown Act Public Comment Requirement for Special Meetings

California Appellate Court Decision in Preven v. City of Los Angeles

No Committee Exception to Brown Act Public Comment Requirement for Special Meetings

While the Ralph M. Brown Act provides a “committee exception” to the public comment requirement for public entities’ regular meetings, the exception does not apply to special meetings, a California appellate court said in a recently published decision. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s determination that a city acted properly when it barred a member of the public from addressing its full council at a special meeting held after a committee meeting on the same topic at which the member of the public had spoken.
 
This opinion in Preven v. City of Los Angeles establishes a further distinction between the procedures public entities must follow when holding special meetings, as opposed to regular meetings. It also puts the onus on the state Legislature to bring the Brown Act requirements for special meetings and regular meetings into greater harmony, if it deems it necessary.
 
The appellant, Eric Preven, addressed a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which is comprised of five members of the 15-member City Council, regarding a proposed real estate development near his residence. After the Committee voted unanimously to make a report and recommendation of approval to the full City Council, Preven sought to address the full Council at a special meeting held the following day, at which it was to consider approval of the Committee’s recommendation. However, citing Preven’s prior opportunity to speak at the Committee meeting on the matter, the City refused to allow Preven to address the full Council during the special meeting.
 
The appellate court determined that the City could not bar Preven from speaking at the special meeting based on his prior opportunity to speak at a separate and distinct committee meeting. The Brown Act expressly requires public entities to provide the public an opportunity to speak “before or during” the consideration of an item at both special and regular meetings. One exception is made in the Government Code, which says  the public entity need not provide an opportunity for public comment “on any item that has already been considered by a committee, composed exclusively of members of the legislative body, at a public meeting wherein all interested members of the public were afforded the opportunity to address the committee on the item, unless the item has been substantially changed since the committee heard the item, as determined by the legislative body.” The court concluded the “committee exception” only applies to items scheduled at a regular meeting of the legislative body and not to items heard at a special meeting.
 
For more information about this decision and how it may impact your agency, contact the authors of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group or your BB&K attorney.
 
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