The city of Sacramento is no longer allowing people to give public comments by phone during council meetings.
The decision is partly due to a small group of men who have been calling in with antisemitic, racist and misogynistic comments since May, City Clerk Mindy Cuppy said in a city blog post.
Most of those men live outside the city limits, and might not decide to drive to City Hall to give public comments. But the decision may not deter all of them from coming in person to give comments. That could potentially result in physical altercations, like the ones that occurred in May, with mainstay activists who attend in person.
The men stopped coming to the chamber after that, but instead started calling in pretending to comment on one of the agenda items before quickly drifting into racist and antisemitic tropes and slurs.
“Any of you who are going to call and spew hate, the city clerk at my direction and the direction of the council are going to cut you off right away, end of story,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is Jewish, after such a call Aug. 29. “We’re not having it in our chamber!”
Several of the councilmembers started turning their chairs around, raising their fists or leaving the chambers during their comments, in protest.
Progressive activists say the change will also silence them. People who want to comment in person often have to sit through more than three hours of other agenda items in order to speak. That’s difficult to do if the person is at work or lacks child care.
“It really feels like the city is using the Nazis as an excuse to shut down criticism from the left,” Dylan Hoy-Bianchi, who frequently calls in, posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.
The council did not take a vote to end the call-in comments, but it was requested by councilmembers Sean Loloee and Karina Talamantes earlier this month.
The city first started allowing call-in comments at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, and has never disabled the feature until this week’s Tuesday meeting.
While the pandemic is less severe than it was in March 2020, the city’s announcement to eliminate phone calls comes amid a spike in Sacramento-area cases of COVID-19.
“The city remains committed to protecting the health and safety of the public and its employees and will continue to follow all guidelines set forth by the California Department of Public Health and Sacramento County Public Health,” the blog post said.
People who do not want to attend the meetings in person can submit a written comment on the city webpage, up until the time the meeting is adjourned, the blog post said.