Good, you should. The local-level advocacy of sharing your opinion with your policymakers is your democratic right.
We’re writing this blog post in early October, 2018, because the San Diego City Council is scheduled to vote on a proposed ordinance limiting polystyrene foam on Monday, October 15, and the “styrofoam ban” could use your support. But, feel free to use this guide as a reminder of how to speak in front of City Council for any agenda item you care about.
As a water lover, you likely already understand why the abundance of plastic foam is such a severe problem for our local environment, wildlife, and water quality. Here’s what you can do about it.
- Make a plan to attend a City Council meeting. The meetings are generally held each Monday at 2:00 p.m. and each Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. during the legislative session. The agenda for each meeting is posted online the Wednesday prior, so you can double check that your item of interest is on the agenda at that time.
- Get yourself to the right place. City Council meetings are held at San Diego City Hall, at 202 C St, San Diego, CA 92101. Plan to show up 15 minutes before the start of the meeting. Head inside, go through the metal detectors, and take an elevator up to the 12th floor.
- Fill out a speaker slip. Either just inside or outside the council chambers there will be a table holding speaker slips. A speaker slip is, quite simply, a short form you fill out indicating you want to speak on an issue. There will also be agendas available. Look at the agenda, find the item number of the topic you wish to speak on, and fill out the speaker slip with the item number and your name. Then, you’ll either turn in your speaker slip to the clerk (who is likely to be at the front of the room by the dais), or put it in an inbox on or near the podium. Now go ahead and have a seat. You may have a bit of a wait before your agenda item comes up. Keep in mind there is a general “non-agenda public comment” time at the beginning of the council meeting, during which you may make a comment on a non-agenda item of concern, but if you are there for a specific agenda item (like the foam ban) – you’ll need to wait until the item is called on the agenda.
- Make your statement. Once your agenda item is up, City staff will generally give a presentation on the topic, after which members of the public are called up one by one to speak. Wait for your name to be called, then approach the podium. Depending on the number of people who wish to give comment, you should plan to have anywhere from 1 – 3 minutes. This goes by in a flash, so keep your statement short, simple, and direct. For something like the styrofoam reduction ordinance, your statement could go something like this: “As a Pacific Beach resident and lifelong surfer, I have seen first hand how an over-abundance of plastic foam impacts our oceans. I support the reduction ordinance for the reasons already given by my fellow community members and local environmental organizations, and respectfully ask that you vote yes to protect our waterways and ocean.” Now go ahead and have a seat. Following public comments, councilmembers will generally discuss the item and then take action, which could include a vote right then and there.
That’s really all there is to it. Go forth and have your voice heard!