A&A: Is a city’s Building Board of Appeals a standing committee?

Q: I am trying to determine the requirements for a City Building Board of Appeals. Every city is required to have a Building Board of Appeals (BBA) pursuant to the California Building Code. Members of the BBA are appointed by City Council. The BBA only meets when someone files an appeal of a City-approved demolition or building permit. As a result, the BBA can’t anticipate meetings and approve or adopt a meeting schedule in advance.

Section 94954(a) of the Brown Act requires each legislative body, except for advisory committees or standing committees, to provide the time and place for holding regular meetings. Meetings of standing committees, for which an agenda is posted at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting, are considered regular meetings of the legislative body.

Section 94954(a) provides only two exceptions to the rule that each legislative body provide the time and place for holding regular meetings – advisory committees or standing committees. Does that mean the BBA is a standing committee, pursuant to the Brown Act, since the BBA has continuing subject matter jurisdiction)? And, does that mean that BBA meetings are considered regular meetings (as opposed to special meetings) of the legislative body if the BBA posts an agenda 72 hours in advance of the meeting?

I realize BBAs perform a quasi-judicial function rather than a legislative function but are still considered legislative bodies under the Brown Act. What I’m really trying to understand is whether BBAs are appropriately classified as standing committees under the Brown Act and if they are subject to specific Brown Act requirements for standing committees.

In most cases, standing committees don’t make the final decision for the local agency. They report back to planning commissions or city councils who either agree or disagree with the recommendations of the standing committee. In the case of BBAs, the BBA’s decision is final and the local agency’s governing body (city council) can’t reverse the decision under any circumstances. I don’t know if that means that BBAs are not considered “standing committees” as far as the Brown Act is concerned, or whether it is appropriate to include BBAs in the “standing committees” category.

A: Under the Brown Act, “legislative bodies” are defined to include “a commission, committee, board or other body of a local agency created by charter, ordinance, resolution or formal action of a legislative body.”  Gov’t Code § 54952(b).  Also, “advisory committees, composed solely of the members of the legislative body that are less than a quorum of the legislative body are not legislative bodies, except that standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 54952(b) (emph. added).

Although the Building Board of Appeals that you describe does not seem to have a fixed schedule, it does seem that it has continuing subject matter jurisdiction from the city council, since it would seem that the appeals that the committee is considering probably come directly from the city council and its denial (or approval, as the case may be) of a particular project.  It would therefore seem that the committee in question is a “legislative body” for purposes of the Brown Act.  While I do not think that this designation would obligate the committee to set up any sort of regular meeting schedule, it would seem that the city would have to follow the notice, agenda and public participation requirements provided for in the Brown Act.  See 79 Ops. Cal. Atty. Gen. 69, *4 (1996).

But, as you point out, given that the standing committee does not have a “regularly” scheduled meeting time, and meetings are called as necessary, it is unclear whether these meetings would fall into the “regular” meeting category (thereby requiring 72 hours notice) or the “special” meeting category (24-hour notice).  Unfortunately, I could not find further guidance on this point.  On the one hand, strictly reading the Brown Act, it could be argued that notice of only 24 hours is necessary since these meetings are unpredictable and on no set schedule.  On the other hand, one could argue that dodging the 72-hour notice requirement, and only providing for 24-hour notice of these appeals’ meetings, is contrary to the spirit of the Brown Act, which is to give the public a meaningful chance to participate in the legislative process — especially where, as in the case of the BBA, they may be hearing controversial matters where members of the public should be given a fair chance to air their opinions.

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