The doors to City Hall have swung open and the dais where the City Council sits will stop gathering dust.
With California’s COVID-19 emergency declaration expiring today, Oakland is required to resume in-person meetings of the council and its committees, as well as the city’s boards and commissions, according to city officials.
This means that, for the first time since the pandemic shut down regular city business and buildings in March 2020, members of the public will be allowed to enter the council chamber and address their elected representatives face-to-face. Masks are required.
There will still be an option to participate in council meetings remotely. Meetings of the City Council and its committees—such as the Life Enrichment Committee and the Public Safety Committee—will have “hybrid” sessions, held simultaneously in person and on Zoom.
“We recognize that’s been very positive in terms of participation,” said City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas about the decision to continue Zoom meetings.
Under the council’s new procedural rules, regular council meetings will begin at 4 p.m. Throughout the pandemic, meetings have typically started in the morning or early afternoon.
“We’ll certainly appreciate everyone’s grace and patience as we go back into City Hall,” Bas said at a meeting last week. “It will literally have been almost three years that we have been operating remotely.”
She told The Oaklandside she expects in-person sessions to lead to more productive legislating. The Council is also returning to a previous approach to public comment, receiving feedback on each agenda item, instead of offering one lengthy comment period at the beginning of each meeting, which is how it’s worked over Zoom. Both in person and now over Zoom too, people wishing to comment will need to submit “speaker cards” beforehand. Physical cards will be available in the council chamber, while people watching remotely need to email email@example.com.
Meetings of Oakland’s numerous boards and commissions—typically non-elected bodies that advise city government, like the Planning Commission—will also be held in person, but Zoom participation won’t be an option for now. These meetings will be streamed so people can watch them from home, but they won’t be able to weigh in. Part of the reason is that most of City Hall’s many meeting rooms, where many boards and commissions gather, won’t immediately have the tools needed to hold hybrid meetings.
Addressing the council earlier this month, Deputy City Administrator Angela Robinson Piñon said the city is working to set up the infrastructure that will allow hybrid meetings in all rooms at City Hall.
“We want to make sure the technology is in place and staff has adequate support,” she said. “It’s a bit of a moving target related to the network issues surrounding the security breach that occurred.”
With the reopening of City Hall, all sorts of city business has resumed in person as well, including appointments between Oakland residents and city staff or council offices.
Interim City Administrator G. Harold Duffey told the council that Oakland is beefing up security measures in city buildings and stationing police officers at entryways and throughout Frank Ogawa Plaza and downtown, to prepare for the influx of people attending meetings and visiting offices. Anyone entering City Hall will have to pass through a metal detector.
For a full half of the City Council, this week marks the first time they’ll be governing from the dais. Councilmembers Carroll Fife and Treva Reid were elected in November 2020, months after meetings went remote, and councilmembers Janani Ramachandran and Kevin Jenkins just took office last month.
This story was updated after publication with new information about how to make a public comment.