SANTA CRUZ — On Monday afternoon, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission will hold a special meeting to discuss one item: The beginning of hybrid meetings.
Starting Feb. 3, the RTC could provide space in the County Board of Supervisors chambers on Ocean Street for a limited number of commissioners and members of the public, the agency’s web page labeled “Meetings & Agendas” includes. The rest of individuals interested in participating will need to do so remotely. Commissioners will vote on the option that would provide for a combination of in-person and online meeting at 3:30 p.m.
No details are included in how the determination will be made around who is allowed to attend in person and who will be expected to attend through Zoom teleconference. If the RTC votes to OK hybrid meetings for the following month, everyone who attends in person must wear a mask.
Previously, RTC has held remote-only meetings because of Assembly Bill 361, a law authored by the Central Coast’s Robert Rivas and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 16. AB 361 allows governmental agencies to hold virtual or hybrid meetings so long as the COVID-19 pandemic creates a state of emergency directly impacting attendees’ safety. The bill requires adoption of a new resolution to maintain the state of emergency every 30 days.
In RTC Deputy Director Luis Mendez’s report to the commission, it notes that California has been under a state of emergency proclamation since March 2020. At that time, Newsom issued executive orders amending the Brown Act in order to allow for virtual meetings — given appropriate public noticing — in order to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
Newsom’s executive orders expired in September, but Rivas stepped in to create further protections thereafter with his bill. It took effect one day after the order expirations, Mendez explains. At that time, RTC staff began the planning process to host hybrid meetings in the near future.
“The goal is to hold RTC meetings in a hybrid format as long as the COVID-19 situation permits, and the facilities are available for hybrid meetings,” Mendez wrote.
If RTC’s majority elects to move the meetings to a hybrid format, it will join the ranks of Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors and the Watsonville City Council. Both agencies physically reopened their meetings to the public in the second half of 2021.
“The hybrid format was our first response to the pandemic while also trying to allow for continued physical public participation at board meetings,” County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios wrote in late June. “With the current trends in positive cases declining and vaccines administration increasing within the County, the threat of the pandemic and disease transmission is lessened, though not eradicated.”
The Capitola, Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley city councils, on the other hand, have chosen to keep their meetings entirely virtual. All have made AB 361-related findings, and according to recent meeting agendas, have not released information around a return to their city halls. Santa Cruz City Council, specifically, cites the circulation of the Omicron variant as the reason why it continues to meet online.
RTC to ponder use of hybrid meetings