San Jose Electeds Pass Rules to Throttle Chatty Colleagues

San Jose’s elected officials last week passed new rules meant to stem the notoriously long City Council meetings that often stretch deep into the night.

The decision, passed in an 8-2 vote, lets council members talk for 10 minutes before being sent to the end of the line of councilors waiting to speak and starting the process again. Though that can theoretically go on indefinitely, elected officials say they hope it will encourage some brevity while giving every council member a chance to talk.

The idea comes from a February 11 memo from council members David Cohen and Dev Davis and was later supported by Mayor Sam Liccardo, with a few changes that would have put more limits on how long councilors can speak on a single issue, though those ultimately weren’t adopted in full.

Even so, the proposal drew criticism from some councilors who say the new rules will restrain elected representative voices at a critical moment.

“Limiting the voices of those who represent marginalized communities is not what we need right now,” Councilwoman Maya Esparza told San Jose Inside. “Whether it’s Covid, the digital divide, language needs, childcare or working multiple jobs, the reality is that many residents cannot speak during a council meeting and rely on their elected representatives to speak about the issues that are important to them and their neighborhoods.”

That’s why Esparza, along with Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas, voted against the guidelines. Liccardo was absent for the vote after leaving half-way through the discussion.

Cohen did not offer up support to Liccardo’s memo calling for hard time limits, nor was he in favor of a limit on overall speaking time.

“My intention in doing this was never about limiting the total time,” Cohen said. “But about creating more orderly round-robin speaking.”

Esparza called for the guidelines to end once the pandemic subsided and for the council to revisit the guidelines once they met in person again. Though not officially adopted as an amendment, the suggestion drew echoes of support from other council members.

Davis, typically one of the quietest councilors, said she supports the proposal because the lack of structure has cut into her speaking time in the past year. “There have been many items where I had notes and I had questions that I just end up texting staff my questions even if I think they might be something that would add to the discussion, because frankly, I don’t want to stay here until midnight every day and I don’t think that’s doing the public a service,” Davis said.

Esparza, however, says staying up until midnight to hash out public policy is a small price for the ripple effects those decisions create—especially during a pandemic.

“Democracy is worth spending time on,” Esparza said. “These are life or death decisions and if they take time, so be it.”

Councilors spent an hour airing grievances about the measure, from limiting women's voices to stifling advocacy.

“As a woman I really don’t want to be encouraged to keep my voice at a limit,” Arenas said. “For me this also has a different flair to it other than just taking turns.”

But in the end, frustrations over what are commonly 12-hour City Council meetings gobbling up city staffers' and residents' time carried the debate.

“We’re not the only voices of the public,” Liccardo said. “My concern has been all along that our voices, rather than mirroring the voices of the public, in many ways are drowning out the voices of the public.”

And while Councilman Sergio Jimenez supported the new time limits, he says there is a bigger issue around the divisiveness that has crept into San Jose’s City Council meetings causing the conversations to drag into the morning hours. Monologues that go on for 20 or more minutes often end in personal comments or jabs, he added.

“Hopefully…one of the outcomes of this is that we’ll be more cognizant and maybe listen a little bit more to some of the folks and not necessarily take a combative stance to people’s commentary,” he said.

And then there is the issue of dwindling attention spans in the fast-paced, technology-driven, information-bite world, says Vice Mayor Chappie Jones.

“There’s been studies that have shown that the average adult has an attention span of about two minutes,” he said. “After two minutes we lose them. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to try to get whatever points or questions or information we want to get out and to do it as efficiently as possible.”


  1. This is entirely reasonable. No one is preventing any council member from going on as long as they want, they just can’t speak continuously.

    Too many elected officials love to hear themselves talk. They’ll ask questions of City Staff that they already know the answers to, and City Staff can then talk for ten minutes without actually answering the question. It is disrespectful to residents watching or attending meetings to have council members go on and on while saying very little.

    These guidelines are not discriminatory in terms of race or gender despite the absurd comment made by Sylvia Arenas. She can talk as long as she wants, in ten minute increments.

  2. >“Limiting the voices of those who represent marginalized communities is not what we need right now,” Councilwoman Maya Esparza told San Jose Inside.

    >“As a woman I really don’t want to be encouraged to keep my voice at a limit,” Arenas said. “For me this also has a different flair to it other than just taking turns.”

    Doesn’t this affect representatives from every district equally, man or woman? It seems as if Esparza and Arenas are constantly trying to cast themselves as victims. Especially considering that this doesn’t actually limit the amount of time anyone can speak, this comes off as ridiculous to me. When you make flippant accusations of sexism, you diminish the credibility of legitimate grievances – but some people are more animated by their resentment of their colleagues than actually trying to solve the actual issues affecting their constituents, it seems to me.

    I really appreciate that Cohen and Davis, two councilmembers with very different ideological backgrounds, were able to find common ground on an issue like this – after years of an extremely divided council, I hope we’ll see more resolutions like this, not just relating to council functions but in broader areas of policy agreement. I also really appreciate Sergio Jimenez, who has been a notable advocate for the marginalized communities Esparza refers to, drawing attention to the division that has seeped into the city council over the past decade. He has done more than most other councilmembers to try to foster an environment of collaboration and mutual respect, and his consistency on this topic has certainly earned my admiration, even though I do not agree with many of his policy positions.

  3. Personally, I think it should have been a 5 minute limit. You can address quite a bit in 5 minutes. It forces the speakers to stay on point. I do not think it takes away in any way from women speaking. Matter of fact, it gives everyone an opportunity to speak. And, as a woman, I would welcome it. And, if you need more time, then get back in the line and speak again. No limits.
    Sylvia Arenas and all Council members: I want to encourage you to limit your speaking. It is not about your sex, or religion, or whatever. It is more in the way of choosing words wisely. We cannot continue to hear all councilmembers blathering on about each topic. As a professional, I choose my words when I speak in public. You have a public voice. You, better than I, should be using that voice with precision. Precision.

  4. If only we could limit the number of times the same person creates a new digital persona to express the same tired opinions over and over again. What we have above is, of course, an example of propaganda techniques ( Each “commentator” attacks Councilmember Arenas for employing her identity to argue against speaking time limits. This is ad nauseam repetition, ostensibly from three different persons. But given the digital possibilities, a concealed identity is able to generate any number of “voices” saying essentially the same thing, just like the above three comments. This gives the impression that there is widespread sentiment in opposition to Ms. Arenas positions when, in fact, it may in fact be one lonely schizoid producing these “voices.”

  5. This is the smartest decision Council has made in a very long time. Maybe they will be more prepared and concise with their perspectives and thoughts – as the meetings tend to get so confusing with cyclical talking points – essentially saying the same thing five different ways. They just always seem so unprepared.

  6. I totally agree with the opinions expressed by 4 of the 5 independent individual commenters above.

  7. Mr. Trouble,

    I agree. I think Salem and Econoclast are the same person, with some slight tone differences – but not enough to conclude they are different people. Sometimes you have the same structure as them, but while they have a more femininely feel, yours is definitely dude-ish. I could be wrong though.

    Of course, I go by many names. SJ Kulak, SJ Kulak’s worst enemy, Definitely not SJ Kulak. I think I’ve got most of these clowns fooled, but I know not you, you’re too clever for that.

    And Ms. Arenas doesn’t employ her identity, she race baits, makes gross generalizations and uses controversial mouth burps which someone coached her up to say to get a platform when she has nothing real to offer in terms of solutions or experience. Just ending whiteness and such. Which is funny, because Ms. Arenas is white and privileged.

    I would be shocked if Ms. Arenas’ ancestors weren’t landowners all the way back to the Roman or possibly the End of Moor Days, maybe even politically connected in the Spanish Empire and its colonization of Mexico. Of course if she wasn’t it wouldn’t matter, because all Spanish surnamed people in the Americans are guilty of colonization and genocide, just as I, born from a long line of Irish and Ukrainian Oppressors, am guilty of all European atrocities.

    And on top of her guilt in the murder by association of the indigenous inhabitants, from what I can see her, identity is a person with far more power and reach than almost any other “white”, black, or Asian person in San Jose.

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