The days of waiting for many hours to voice one’s opinions to the Berkeley City Council may soon be over if a suggestion being put forward by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin is adopted. The agenda item, which will be heard at the Council’s March 8 meeting, proposes starting public hearings at City Council meetings at a set time — most probably 8pm. Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin suggest establishing a six-month trial period to test out the idea. The set time would apply to items heard on appeal to decide whether or not to have a public hearing, as well as hearings that are already on the schedule. As it stands, public hearings occur in tandem with the time of the agenda item. For members of the public wishing to speak about an issue, this can sometimes mean having to be present in Council chambers for many hours, sometimes late into the night or early morning.
Update, 19:10: Kriss Worthington tells us that he introduced this idea as part of the Sunshine Ordinance but it didn’t make it into that legislation, so he is bringing it to Council as an autonomous agenda item. “It is the number one, simplest step we could take to stop driving people crazy,” he tells Berkeleyside.Worthington concedes the proposal could be controversial. “There are those who will worry that public hearings could push other important items off the agenda, but that’s why I changed the suggested time from 7:30pm to 8:00pm so that there is time before the hearing to consider the important item,” he says. He adds that if there are multiple public hearings he believes they should be allocated a night each, “even if it means scheduling a special meeting”. “The system is very dysfunctional now and this would be more friendly to the public,” he concludes.