Members of the Ceres City Council agreed to once again allow the public to physically attend their meetings – a first since governor shut down normal activities in California during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council decided to open the chambers starting with the meeting set for next Monday, March 22.
For most of 2020 and all of this year, the council had been conducting business via Zoom meetings with councilmembers and staff participating from home or offices. Toward the end of the year members began physically sitting in the Council dais, modified with plastic dividers, with the public barred from attending.
City Manager Tom Westbrook surveyed other cities in the county and learned that six of the nine are holding meetings virtually only. The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors has been allowing the public to walk into its chambers for meetings but limits that number to 36 and physically distanced. Turlock has reopened public attendance but limited seating to 16 while Oakdale allows up to 15 in its audience. Westbrook said the room which the council meets in is large enough to keep audience members adequately distanced from one another.
Westbrook recommended Zoom participation continues once the public is allowed to be present in the Council Chambers.
He also recommended those attending to wear a mask or a face shield and hand sanitizer would be provided.
Westbrook also said that if more than 30 wanted to physically attend, the city has the ability to open up the large assembly room which is wired for closed circuit TV.
Ceres resident Dave Pratt said Zoom may work for some people but he complained about its shortcomings of loss of audio due to broken signals and echoes.
“I’m all for opening the council (meetings) back up,” said Pratt.
Lee Brandt phoned in to say if meetings are reopened, he wants to see the public be able to participate via Zoom as well.
“Me personally, I like having the Zoom because I can sit here and eat my dinner and watch you guys,” said Brandt.
Lopez agreed that the council should proceed after making sure that everyone is protected. He recommended tabling the matter until procedures are established.
Connie Vasquez, one of four individuals who applied for consideration to be appointed to the vacant council seat, said she agreed with reopening, adding “it’s been far too long.”