Planning commissioner advocates in-person public comment

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on February, 26, 2020, is located on the 23900 block of Valencia Blvd. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Santa Clarita Planning Commissioner Lisa Eichman said Tuesday she would like the city to look into allowing residents to gather inside the City Council chambers to freely express themselves during public comment, and questioned the way the city has adapted to current health orders prohibiting gatherings. 

For months, public city meetings, such as the Planning Commission and City Council, have taken place virtually under the statewide order that prohibits large gatherings and recommends physical distancing of at least 6 feet between people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The public can still participate by calling in during the meeting or submitting written comments online; but on Tuesday, commissioners had trouble hearing from one speaker whose phone line broke off a couple of times, according to Eichman. 

The speaker called to comment on his opposition to a proposed 375-home project in Saugus that would also close off a section of Bouquet Canyon Road, citing concerns about potential increased traffic, among other issues. Commissioners had previously received more than 100 comments expressing both support and opposition to the proposal. 

After the speaker finished, Eichman said she would like to hear from the public in person at the council chambers in City Hall where the meetings are held, perhaps through an appointment process, a mechanism to allow residents to express themselves without potential technical difficulties. 

“I feel that this is pretty hard — (commenters are) cutting in and out,” she said. “This is a big project. I just think that it’s not going to look very favorable if we go ahead, and let’s just assume we approve (the project), and we haven’t had people come up here and speak their piece.” 

The commissioner suggested city staff connect with an L.A. County Public Health officer on the potential for allowing a limited number of people to gather for comment in person. 

“They just came out with a new health order for churches today: 25% capacity, or no more than 100 (people). We don’t have 100 here, but I think we can have 25% in this room, have them sit and be able to speak their piece,” Eichman said. 

Jason Crawford, planning and economic development manager for the city, indicated the chances of that happening were slim. 

“I would love for us to be able to be in a spot where the public can be here in the same room, but we are following health orders to protect the safety, not only of those folks that are in this room, but those folks that have members of the public that are not in the room,” he said, adding that he would still look into the matter. 

Eichman said she agreed, but believed “we should look and talk to a health officer” because with opposition behind the project “it’s gonna get ugly,” which had prompted her to ask for security on Tuesday “because I just felt uncomfortable that people were angry.” 

Across California, guidelines for gatherings have changed over the past months, ranging from a limit to groups of 100 to no more than 10 to a prohibition on public gatherings altogether.

Establishments, such as retailers and places of worship, have been allowed to reopen only with a limited number of people in an enclosed space at a time, but many have challenged those orders, contending that the guidelines are too one-size-fits-all.

The county directive remains for people to practice physical distancing outside of one’s household. 

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