In Preven v. City of Los Angeles (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 925, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s determination that the “committee exception” to the public comment requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Brown Act) (Gov. Code, § 54950 et seq.) apply to special meetings.
Appellant addressed the city’s planning and land use committee (“PLUM Committee”), which is comprised of five members of the 15-member city council, regarding a proposed real estate development near his residence. The committee voted to recommend approval to the full city council. At a special meeting held to consider approval of the committee’s recommendation, the city council refused to allow the appellant to speak because he had already spoken on the matter.
The Second District Court of Appeal found the city’s process to be in error. Generally speaking, the Brown Act requires a legislative body to provide an opportunity for public comment before its consideration of an item. Section 54953.3, subdivision (a) of the Government Code provides for what is commonly referred to as the “committee exception” to this requirement. Under this exception, a legislative body is not required to hear public comment, if the item has already been considered by a committee where the public was afforded the opportunity for comment.
Using general rules of statutory construction, the court found that the plain language of the statute specifies that the committee exception applies only to regular meetings, not special meetings. The court also rejected the city’s interpretation that the required opportunity for public comment before a legislative body takes action at a special meeting includes comments made at a prior separate meeting. The court found that such an interpretation rendered the committee exception superfluous. Finally, the court found support for its interpretation in the legislative history of the Brown Act, which demonstrated that the Legislature had purposefully made a number of distinctions between the requirements of regular and special meetings.