After rash of antisemitic remarks, San Francisco supes limit remote public comment

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, with an 8-3 vote Tuesday, ended remote public comment at meetings of the board and its committees with some exceptions.   

The rule change was initiated by board president Aaron Peskin after a stream of racist and antisemitic callers interrupted the supervisors' meeting Sept. 26. 

It was part of a wave of hate speech heard in public meetings around the region, as reported by the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, which tracks such incidents.  

Phone-in public comment was initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic as a remedy for continuing the work of government during the citywide lockdown. 

On Monday, Peskin brought the change through the board's rules committee, where it was approved unanimously by Supervisors Matt Dorsey, Shamann Walton and Ahsha Safai.  

Seniors and people with disabilities can still use the phone-in comment option under the changes approved Tuesday.

The measure was opposed by Supervisors Dean Preston, Joel Engardio and Myrna Melgar, who asked that alternatives be used, such as a time delay from when the call is given to when it is broadcast.  

"I hope that we can find a way to strike a balance," said Melgar. "The Board of Supervisors, we are arguably the most forward-facing public entity in the city and county of San Francisco."   

Walton, who supported the rule change, reiterated that the rule change will not end public comment completely.  

 "I just really want to be clear that this will not have a negative effect on people with disabilities and will not have a negative effect on seniors," Walton said.   "It's not just about the racist and demonizing comments that people make when they call in, but for me, it's also about the fact that I don't want to represent people from Florida or Texas or their opinions here in the Board of Supervisors. And people have taken advantage of that through remote public comment."