Thank You: Santa Clara County Invests in Virtual Participation

Virtual public comments being broadcast via Zoom during a Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting on January 24, 2023.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has approved the purchase of equipment and staffing needed to enable virtual public participation at all meetings of County Boards and Commissions. Thanks to everyone who emailed the Supervisors, as well as the nonprofit Racial Equity Action Leadership (REAL) Coalition who worked hard with us to make this happen. Your voice matters and created a path for all voices to be heard!

County Listens to the Public and Invests in Virtual Public Participation

We’re pleased to report that as part of the budget approved this month by the Board of Supervisors, the County will be able to purchase equipment needed to convert four additional meeting spaces to enable virtual public participation. The Planning Commission instituted remote public participation in May, and the functionality will become available for all other County Boards and Commissions within the next fiscal year.

After COVID, some jurisdictions like San Jose chose to continue remote participation permanently at City Council meetings and also at all meetings of city boards and commissions, but Santa Clara County at first decided to continue it only for Board of Supervisors and five Board policy committees meetings.

Green Foothills was particularly concerned that the County was not allowing remote participation at the Planning Commission and several other boards and commissions whose purpose directly advances racial equity. We alerted our supporters to this issue, and worked with the REAL Coalition to spread the word.

Why Public Participation Matters

Before COVID, the only way to speak at city and county board and commission meetings was to attend in person. When remote public participation was allowed during the COVID pandemic, participation in public meetings greatly increased, and so did the diversity of people speaking up. Many people who were unable to travel to meetings in person, were able to attend and speak at meetings virtually.

Public participation is critical for democracy because it allows citizens to have a voice in the decision-making processes that affect their lives and thus help in shaping policies, laws, and regulations that affect their communities.

Without broad and inclusive public participation, decision-making can become dominated by a small group of people or special interests, which can undermine the democratic process. Public participation helps to ensure that government policies are responsive to the needs and concerns of residents, which can improve the overall quality of life in a community.

Of great importance is the fact that remote public participation fosters equity because:

  • With the widest range of virtual options, people like busy parents and caregivers, those working two jobs, and those without transportation can provide input without having to commute. The elimination of a virtual option would create a hardship for some and likely reduce community engagement and the diversity of participants.
  • Providing virtual options also makes meetings accessible for those with certain disabilities and older adults, including those unable to risk their health by attending in-person meetings.
  • The negative effects of eliminating virtual options would especially affect communities of color.

Public participation also helps to build trust between residents and their government. When residents have a say in decision-making processes, they are more likely to feel like their opinion was heard and considered. This can strengthen the legitimacy of democratic institutions and promote a more stable and prosperous society.

Our Voices Were Heard

Thank you to everyone who responded to our Action Alert, and calls to action from our nonprofit allies to contact the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors about remote public participation. Together, our voices were heard.

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