After an extended period of doing business on Zoom, Palo Alto City Council is preparing to return to City Hall for in-person meetings in early November.
But even when the council returns to its chambers, the new normal will be slightly different from the old. All council members, as well as city staff and members of the public, will be required to show either proof of vaccination or a negative test taken within 48 hours of the meeting. And unlike the pre-pandemic days, people will still have the option to participate in discussions remotely, via Zoom.
For the board, moving to â€œhybridâ€ meetings in November after around 20 months of virtual meetings represents a compromise. Mayor Tom DuBois preferred to return to town hall as soon as possible, while council member Greg Tanaka preferred to keep meetings remote at least until each attendee received a booster shot.
â€œI know people who have been vaccinated and contracted COVID,â€ Tanaka said. “It’s still very virulent there and we have to be careful and we want to set a good example in terms of accountability.”
The council eventually joined with a proposal from Deputy Mayor Pat Burt to return in November. He noted that although Santa Clara County continues to see a fairly high number of cases thanks to the delta variant, it is on a “welcome downtrend,” a trend that is expected to continue as more and more people will receive booster shots over the next few months.
â€œI think where we’ll be in a month’s time is comparable to where we were in May and June,â€ said Burt, referring to the brief period of optimism before the delta variant peaked. “I would expect this to be the right amount of time in which we can go into hybrid mode.”
Board member Alison Cormack also favored returning to face-to-face meetings, noting that many employees have been doing so for months. While virtual meetings have allowed the board to conduct its business, Cormack said she lacks some of the regular features of face-to-face meetings, including chatting with colleagues about their weekends or having the opportunity to watch her. colleagues in person as they speak.
â€œI expect we will have challenges and learn some things, but at some point we will have to resume our in-person meetings,â€ Cormack said. “We have lost so much by not meeting in person.”
Cormack also noted that many people in various professions have been working in person for months now.
â€œPeople do their job with masks remotely for a full day and I think the time has come for us to do the same,â€ Cormack said. “I do not consider it to be an imminent health and safety risk that we do our work together in person.”
One of those people is board member Greer Stone, a teacher at Gunn High, who has also said he prefers going back to meetings in person. At the same time, Stone preferred to give the town councils and commissions more time before they were forced to return to town hall.
â€œI think we should show our leadership to the community and we should go back if we ask the boards and commissions to come back,â€ Stone said.
The council agreed that its standing committees, as well as the various city councils and commissions, should continue to meet remotely until at least January 1. And to give board members additional flexibility, the board has agreed to increase the number of times a board member can participate remotely from three times per year to five times. Additionally, the council agreed that the physical presence of council members should be optional as long as the county maintains rules for mandatory interior masking.
In an effort to stimulate audience participation, the board also gave staff the flexibility to provide video capabilities to public speakers.