In any given week, there are several public meetings happening in your community where decisions are made that could directly impact you, your family, friends and neighbors.
Whether it’s about the air you breathe, ability to find housing, access to clean water, public transportation or economic stability, decisions about these important issues are being made in the halls of local government.
In California, the law requires officials to make these decisions in a publicly-accessible space where anyone can drop in and share their opinions on the matter.
If you’ve ever wondered how you can get involved and share your input on an upcoming agenda item or community matter — this guide answers some common questions to more effectively engage in local decisions.
We’ve created this example of how to submit a public comment at a Fresno City Council meeting to help you. While this guide is specific to Fresno City Council meetings, many of the same tips can be applied to other cities, counties, public agencies and neighborhood meetings.
What is public comment?
Public comment is your way to address local agencies, legislative bodies of local government agencies and any standing committee of a covered board or legislative body, and governing bodies of nonprofit corporations formed by a public agency. Examples of these include city council, county board of supervisors, planning commission, special district and school boards.
Most of these officials are elected by residents, like you, to represent them. They discuss and vote on which laws to pass and how taxpayer money should be spent. That work has to be done during public meetings.
The Brown Act requires these agencies to provide a public comment period at each regular meeting to provide the community opportunity to speak about an item on the agenda or to share information or an opinion on any community matter.
Who can make a public comment?
Anyone! If you’d like to talk about anything on the agenda or any community matter, you are entitled to do so. You don’t need to live in the city or even be impacted directly by an issue that you wish to speak about.
Why should I make public comment?
There’s many reasons! While the legislative body isn’t required to listen to you or take your comments into consideration, submitting formal comments creates an official record, which can be useful should there be disputes down the line about what the community wants or thinks on any particular issue.
“Public comment is part of the meeting record, so it can lay groundwork for a legal challenge to an official decision,” said Patience Milrod, a Fresno-based land use and civil rights attorney.
It’s also an opportunity to inform legislators in a very direct way about a topic and sometimes change the way they approach an issue.
Public comments are also helpful to inform the media and other influential people about issues in the community that should get closer attention. At times, public comments can influence public opinion on a given issue as well.
Ultimately, “it’s a reality check, one that makes it impossible for officials to be comfortable in their bubble,” added Milrod.
Where can I find information on an upcoming meeting?
Legislative bodies of local agencies, such as the Fresno City Council, are covered by the Brown Act, which requires that agendas be posted in a place freely accessible to members of the public at least 72 hours beforehand.
All City of Fresno and most other local city and county meeting agendas in the central San Joaquin Valley are available online. The City of Fresno agendas can also be viewed on the touch-screen electronic kiosk located outside the Fresno City Hall at 2600 Fresno Street, Fresno 93721.
Another quick way to find an agenda for a specific upcoming local meeting is doing an Internet search for the legislative body, such as, “Fresno Housing Authority agenda” or “Clovis Planning Commission agenda.” If you are unable to find meeting materials online at least 72 hours before a scheduled meeting, call or email your city or county clerk.
Per the Brown Act, local agencies must honor a person’s request to provide and mail a copy of the agenda at the time it is posted or of all the documents of the agenda packet of any meeting. However, the local agency may charge a fee that covers the cost of mailing an agenda or agenda packet.
How can I submit a public comment electronically?
Members of the public wishing to comment virtually for a City of Fresno meeting have three options:
Submit eComments starting at 5 p.m. on the Friday prior to the meeting until 24 hours before the meeting begins. To do this, click on the “eComment” option next to the meeting on the City of Fresno’s legislative calendar. After selecting “eComment,” you will be taken to a page where you can comment on agenda items individually or choose the option to provide “unscheduled communication.” You may comment as a guest or register for an account.
Electronic comments begin at 5 p.m. on Friday prior to the Thursday council meeting and close at 9 a.m. on Wednesday or 24 hours before the city council meeting. According to City Clerk Todd Stermer, this allows staff enough time to compile the comments and submit them to the council for consideration prior to the meeting. eComments are limited to a maximum of 450 words and become part of the official record.
Register to speak during the meeting via Zoom. You can do this in advance using the link in the meeting agenda. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with the link to join. If you do not wish your name to appear on the screen, use the dropdown menu to “rename” yourself.
During any public comment portion of the meeting, select the “Raise Hand” reaction on the bottom right side of the screen. When called upon, state your name for the record, and you will be able to address the council for up to two minutes.
Email comments to email@example.com at least 24 hours before the meeting begins. Include the agenda date and item number you wish to speak about in the subject line of your email and send your email at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. Your comments will be given to the city council members, but won’t be read during the meeting.
Most other local agencies don’t facilitate eComments like the City of Fresno. But most do allow you to email a public comment within a certain time frame or participate electronically via Zoom.
How do I make a public comment in person?
The Fresno City Council meets certain Thursdays starting at 9 a.m. You can make public comments in-person at the Fresno City Hall, second floor at 2600 Fresno Street, Fresno 93721. You will have to go through a security checkpoint, although no I.D. is necessary.
The city clerk’s office advises arriving by 9:30 a.m. and filling out a speaker card for each item you would like to comment on. You will turn this card in and it will be given to the council president who will call you by name to speak at the podium during unscheduled communication or as the specific agenda item is discussed.
If you’re not commenting on a specific agenda item, this is known as “unscheduled communication,” which usually occurs at the beginning of the meeting. Keep in mind that agenda items may be called out of order and at different times without notice.
When your name is called, you may come to the podium and speak to the council for up to two minutes. You may speak on multiple agenda items and will be given up to two minutes per item. The City Council president, who is in charge of running the meeting, will be strict about the two-minute limit, so do your best to gather your thoughts beforehand.
What if officials don’t allow me to make public comment?
As long as you’ve followed the procedures we’ve shared, public agencies are required to allow you to submit your comments verbally or in writing. If you’re concerned that your comments are not being accepted, contact the First Amendment Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 415-460-5060.
Will I need an ID to enter Fresno City Hall?
No ID is required to enter Fresno City Hall. However, you must go through a metal detector and pocket knives, weapons or firearms are not allowed in the building.
Where can I park at Fresno City Hall?
According to the city’s Parking Division, the parking rate at the City Hall North Lot at 2600 Fresno Street is $3.00 for the first hour and $1.00 for each additional hour, with a daily maximum of $9.00. You have the option to pay by cash, credit or debit card at kiosks, through the ParkMobile app or by calling 877-727-5718.
You can also find and pay for metered parking on the streets surrounding city hall using the ParkMobile app. It will allow you to add more money if you need to stay longer than expected. Meters are $1.00 to $1.50 per hour depending on the location and allow you to pay in increments from 30 minutes to 10 hours.
Limited free parking is available a block away from city hall on R Street near Saint John’s Cathedral.
Can I take public transportation to Fresno City Hall?
Yes, Fresno City Hall is accessible via several FAX bus routes.
The Amtrak train and Greyhound Bus stations are also across the street.
Are there mask requirements at Fresno City Hall?
Despite inconsistencies on recent agendas, masks are not required for anyone at Fresno City Council meetings, according to City Clerk Todd Stermer. The council chambers are fully open, and there are no limits on seating capacity.
Are the meetings held in languages other than English?
Fresno City Council meetings have Spanish, Hmong, and Punjabi translators on standby if need be. If you need an interpreter, sign language interpreter, services of a translator or additional accommodations, you may contact the office of the city clerk at 559-621-7650 or email@example.com. They advise making your request at least three business days prior to the meeting.
What if I want to put an item on the agenda?
If you would like to request that an item be put on the agenda for the Fresno City Council, you may fill out the form here or mail a written letter to: City Clerk, 2600 Fresno St. Room 2133, Fresno, CA 93721. The letter should state the subject matter, provide supporting material, if any, and state the action you wish the council to take.
Other local agencies follow a similar procedure. Your request will be referred to the city manager for review. If approved for placement on the agenda, it will be no sooner than 10 days after receipt of your written letter or form. Your presentation will be limited to three minutes.
Created by the Fresno Documenters team. Comments or questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fresno Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government oﬃcials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.