In a tense vote last week, the San Mateo County Harbor Commissioners moved to change their regular evening meetings to 1 p.m. Critics say that will make it harder for working constituents to keep tabs on the special taxation district.
The Commission commonly meets on the third Wedensday of every month. The proposal to change the district’s 6:30 p.m. traditional meeting time passed 3-2 despite comments by commissioners and attendees warning that the new time would not be accessible to those who work regular day jobs.
The change takes effect beginning at the next regular meeting on Oct. 21.
The move also makes the Harbor District the exception — every other special district and public agency in the county, except for the Board of Supervisors, holds regular meetings in the evening or late afternoon.
One speaker, Dave Olson, urged the board to keep the meeting time the same.
“This is a meeting that is often heavily attended and if it is during the day when people are working, even during COVID, people have set schedules and people will not be able to attend this meeting who might otherwise,” Olson said.
“It is the height of entitlement to do that to people,” said Commissioner Edmundo Larenas, who voted against the move.
Larenas was joined by Commissioner Sabrina Brennan in opposing the time change. Each spoke more than once on the issue, referring to the proposal as disappointing and embarrassing.
“This is really harkening back to the old days of no videotaped meetings, when people used every possible trick in the book to squelch public participation. It doesn’t reflect well on the district to make it so challenging for the public to attend,” Brennan said.
In response to questions about the origins of the proposal, Board President Nancy Reyering said she heard from several people who said they weren’t able to attend the original 6:30 p.m. meetings. None of these people were able to attend the meeting to speak on the item, she said.
“What I have been hearing during the last six to seven months is that evenings have become especially precious for family time, given the amount of time kids — and workers — are having to spend online,” she wrote. “So, afternoon meetings may help with these issues.”
During the Sept. 16 meeting, Reyering cited a staff report that looked at 11 district meetings since April 2020 that showed that meetings held between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. were well attended. However, none of those examples were regular meetings, but rather committee meetings, said Larenas.
“You seem to be following this path of misrepresenting the information,” Larenas said. “The numbers you quoted were correct but the implication was that they were all board meetings … Actually, they weren’t. Those were committee meetings. We’ve never had a regular meeting at 1 p.m.”
Of the top most-attended meetings, the top two were regular 6:30 p.m. meetings and two were special meetings held at 1 p.m: 69 people attended a meeting on June 4, and 51 people attended a meeting on July 2.
Just because a member of the public goes to a day meeting, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was easy to do, said Larenas, who recalls losing hours at a former job to attend daytime Board of Supervisors meetings.
“At my own expense,” he said about attending midday meetings. “So it is inconvenient to do these meetings during the day.”
Commissioner Tom Mattusch, who supported the new time, said that he was willing to try it out of consideration for the district staff.
Requests for comment from Commissioner Virginia Chang Kiraly were not answered in time for publication.
Like Mattusch, Reyering looks at the new meeting time as a pilot test and that she will monitor attendance at future meetings.
“I am open to appropriate adjustments,” she said.