Councilman David Breitenbucher believes the city can do a lot more at making sure Manteca residents have the opportunity to address City Council members — and department heads — about their concerns in-person during COVID-19 restrictions that could be in place through the end of 2021 and beyond.
“People should have the right to address city leaders,” Breitenbucher said Tuesday.
It is a point he has been making repeatedly since the pandemic began in March.
And instead of the city rising to the occasion by being nimble and even putting in place technology to make real time comments from citizens possible, he believes they have slipped backwards.
Given the emphasis the city has made on technology and getting more broadband options in place, Breitenbucher is disappointed the city hasn’t stepped up their game on the technology front to even make it easier for citizens — whom he pointed out the council was elected to represent and whose money the city spends — to have effective access to public meetings.
Breitenbucher pointed to a special council meeting and a planning commission meeting cancelled last week because the city did not have any staff available that could conduct a Zoom meeting. It was particularly frustrating for residents in the neighborhood near the proposed Rotten Robbie’s gas station along Airport Way who rearranged their schedules for the expected commission hearing on the project.
Breitenbucher said the live eComment ability that has been added is a positive step but he added “printed words are no substitute” for people being able to talk in person.
The councilman noted cities surrounding Manteca — Ripon and Escalon included – were accommodating citizens attending meetings in person at 25 percent when San Joaquin County was in the red tier.
He noted that there is four tiers that Manteca and the rest of the state has to work through before COVID-19 restrictions on assemblies are dropped.
It is why he wants several “real time” options explored to be considered for implementation.
One would involve when San Joaquin County improves to move back into the red tier to allow the public into the council chambers with a 25 percent capacity. In such a situation others could be allowed to wait outside social distancing watching via a TV monitor. When an agenda items they wish to comment on comes up, they should be allowed to enter and address the council.
Given the weather and comfort issues, Breitenbucher noted the better option would be to conduct council meetings in the community room at the Manteca Transit Center on Moffat Boulevard.
With a capacity of 220 for events — which is lower than seating for a meeting — the transit center at 25 percent capacity could accommodate 55 people. It is likely to be a bit higher for seating capacity.
Given the city has backbone in place at the transit center for digital purposes and the city has also obtained more robust Internet options, Breitenbucher believes the city could be able to make council meetings at the transit center that can accommodate more people as conditions improve.
He noted carrying council meetings on Comcast Channel 97 from the transit center might be an issue. he added the city has had time to address such an issue and that a city that wants to be tech savvy and redefine public access would have made that happen by now, pandemic or not.
At the same time he embraces city management efforts to make all meetings available by livestreaming on the city’s website.
Councilman-Elect Charlie Halford shares Breitenbucher’s concerns about the public not being able to address the people they elect to represent them in real time at council meetings whether it is in person, over Zoom or in some other remote fashion.
In the past 7½ months of the public being blocked from commenting in real time in person or remotely, Breitenbucher is the only current council member who has repeatedly been bringing up the subject.
He also wants to see the city hall complex — at least the finance departments — more open to the public other than by appointment.
“The finance department (lobby) is already built like Fort Knox,” Breitenbucher said of barriers that were in place before the pandemic.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com