Brown Act Case: [br]Court Of Appeal Finds That Only One General Public Comment Period Is Necessary When A Public Body Meets In Multiple Sessions To Consider One Agenda


The California Court of Appeal (First Appellate District) recently addressed the issue of whether a public body was required to provide a general public comment period for each session of a continued public meeting where only a single agenda was considered at the two-day meeting. (Chaffee v. San Francisco Library Commission, (2004 Daily Journal, D.A.R. 1125, Cal. App. 1 Dist. January 29, 2004))


The San Francisco Library Commission (Commission) held a regularly scheduled meeting on May 16, 2002 (the first meeting). The posted agenda included eight items and noted that public comment would be taken before or during the Commission’s consideration of each item. Although some agenda items were discussed, the meeting had to be continued due to a loss of a quorum. The Commission did not allow general public comment at the first meeting. On May 17, 2002, the Commission issued a notice and agenda for the continued meeting to be held on May 21, 2002, (the second meeting) which listed only the items that had not been addressed at the first meeting. That same day, James Chaffee, filed a complaint seeking an injunction to require the Commission to provide for general public comment at all of its meetings and a declaration that California’s Ralph M. Brown Act and San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance require general public comment at all of the Commission’s regular meetings. At the second meeting, the same Commissioners present at the first meeting heard the remaining items and allowed public comment on each of the items and also allowed a general public comment period at the conclusion of the meeting. Thereafter, the Commission sought summary judgment on Mr. Chaffee’s complaint and the trial court granted the motion.

Appellate Court Decision

The Court of Appeal found that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the Commission. The Court rejected Mr. Chaffee’s argument that Commission violated the Brown Act and the Sunshine Ordinance by not giving him the opportunity to make general public comment at the end of the first meeting. The applicable portion of the Brown Act, Government Code section 54954.3, provides that “[e]very agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public.” The Sunshine Ordinance of 1999, San Francisco Administrative Code section 67.15, similarly provides that “[e]very agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to address a policy body on items of interest to the public.” Mr. Chaffee argued that the laws provide that a public body must allow general public comment at every session at which it meets in addition to allowing comment on specific agenda items. The Court rejected Mr. Chaffee’s interpretation, finding that the laws require only “that a single general public comment be provided per agenda, in addition to public comment on each agenda item as it is taken up by the body.” The Court found that the Commission complied with the laws by allowing general public comment on the second day of the two-day meeting held to consider the single agenda.

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