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Supervisors to allow the public back into meetings after more than a year

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The Kern County Board Chambers have been mostly empty for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The public is being welcomed back on Tuesday.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors plans to allow in-person attendance at its next meeting for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Under normal circumstances, public participation in government meetings is required by the Ralph M. Brown Act, but the state suspended those requirements due to COVID-19.

As coronavirus spread has diminished in Kern County, supervisors plan to allow a limited number of live participants on Tuesday before allowing full in-person attendance if Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the stay-at-home order on June 15 as he has previously indicated he would.

“We’re going to do it in coordination with our local public health officials. We’ll watch the numbers and we’ll do it in coordination with the state’s directives,” said Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop. “I think that’s where most counties are. It’s encouraging that things seem to be looking more positive, and we’re looking forward to having and seeing more people join us for these Tuesday meetings in the room.”

Throughout the pandemic, supervisors have received public comment through live call-ins, voicemails and emails. However, large demonstrations that are sometimes seen at the meetings have been absent over the last 14 months.

Just under 65 people will be allowed on Tuesday, with the Board Chambers opening to full capacity when the governor lifts the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Unlike the county, the Bakersfield City Council has allowed limited in-person participation at its meetings through much of the pandemic. Although June 15 is approaching, the city does not have a concrete plan in place to reopen its meetings fully to the public.

“There has been no specific guidance given for public meetings in California, save for the relaxing of some Brown Act requirements, so the City has used the guidance from the health departments and CDC to keep our meetings as open as possible while also working to limit the potential spread of the virus,” city spokesman Joe Conroy wrote in an email to The Californian.

Currently, 25 people are allowed in the City Council Chambers, a number that has increased as the city has advanced through the Blueprint’s tiered system. The city has relied on state and county health department guidance to set its attendance limit, as well as information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both the city and county meetings have been available to the public through online streams and television.

Conroy said the city was proud to have remained open to the public for most of last year.

“We expect the easing of some of the COVID-19 restrictions following June 15 according to the state guidelines that are in place at that time,” he added. “The state has provided some additional guidelines for when it’s time to move beyond the Blueprint, though there are still risk-reduction measures expected to be in place, and much of it is contingent on specific criteria.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.