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Beverly Hills will soon begin the process of reopening city buildings to the public and resuming in-person city services, though a return to in-person meetings for the City Council might be farther off.
On April 20, the council heard an update from Assistant City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey about the city’s plans for reopening and what will be allowed, including the resumption of in-person services at City Hall next month.
“[City staff’s plan] currently calls for City Hall to open to the public by appointment on May 3,” Hunt-Coffey said.
The four present council members – Councilman Lester Friedman was absent – were in agreement that “the time has come to reopen City Hall,” as Councilman Julian Gold said. As for when their meetings would return to being held in person, however, the council members seemed to reach an impasse in regards to mask wearing.
Current Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines state that even for vaccinated people, meetings should be limited to a total of 15 people. When the five council members and city staffers are included, “it doesn’t leave a lot of room for members of the public to attend and participate in person,” Hunt-Coffey said.
In addition, the guidelines require masks, and eating and drinking would not be allowed.
Councilman John Mirisch and Vice Mayor Lili Bosse noted that wearing masks could prevent council members and the public from hearing participants very well.
“I think it’s very hard to understand somebody when their mouth is covered, their words are mumbled and that could be a detriment to the public,” Bosse said.
Mirisch suggested instead that meetings could continue virtually. He also asked that the ability for public comment to be held virtually could continue, which seemed to garner broad support on the council.
“I think we need to continue to look at the advantages of remote work and apply those,” Mirisch said.
Gold pointed out that “masks may be here for years,” and the council may ultimately have to reconvene in person while wearing masks.
“There’s no guarantee that masks are going away over the summer,” he said.
Bosse said she hopes that the county will make changes to its guidance on in-person meetings.
“I think we have to hope that there will be more tweaks to this, because I don’t think it’s effective for the community to try to understand me while I’m wearing a face covering while I’m talking,” Bosse said.
Other nearby cities are having to make similar choices, Hunt-Coffey said, and West Hollywood is planning to have its council return to in-person meetings by mid-summer, though no members of the public will be allowed to attend. A spokesperson for the city of West Hollywood did not return a request for information before press time.
For members of the public who do not wish to wear a mask for Beverly Hills City Council meetings once they return in person, Hunt-Coffey said the city could offer a viewing area outdoors.
“We’re still working through the logistics of that, but obviously we want to provide as equal of service as we can,” Hunt-Coffey said. “We just can’t put the other members of the public and the staff at risk by having them in city buildings without a face covering.”
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