Time restrictions on public comment at public meetings
Q: I am the chair sunshine task force and it came up in our recent meeting that mayor has recently, on occasion, limited public comments at council meetings to one minute rather than the normal two minutes because 25-20 people wanted to speak and the council meeting was “going late” at 10-11 pm and the council wanted to go home
I am aware that California law does not state what those limits are and California Attorney General gave a 1992 opinion that five minutes per speaker may be “reasonable” under the circumstances
Would a one minute per speaker agenda item be considered “reasonable” and does it meet the test of “ensure that the intent” of accommodating public comment “is carried out?”
A: The Brown Act provides that “[e]very agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on items of interest to the public that are within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.” Ca. Govt. Code Section 54954.3(a). The Brown Act also provides that “[t]he legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent [of providing an opportunity for every member of the public to address the body] is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.” Cal. Govt. Code Section 54954.3(b). As you note, the law does not specify what those time limits are, simply that they are to be “reasonable . . . to ensure that the intent” of accommodating public comment “is carried out.” The Attorney General has concluded that five minutes per speaker may be “reasonable” under the circumstances, (75 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 89 (1992)), but many agencies, as you have already experienced, limit that time to less than 5 minutes.
Because there is no definitive authority on point, it is unclear whether limiting speaker time to 1 minute would be construed as reasonable. Since the city council imposes those limits only during the meetings where there are a large number of members of the public wanting to address the body, this regulation may be considered reasonable under the circumstances since it is aimed at ensuring that every member of the public will get the opportunity to speak.