How to watch and participate in Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meetings
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting chambers. File photo.

In our 2021 survey, San José Spotlight readers told us they want to be more civically engaged and involved in local policymaking. Many readers said our coverage of local government has motivated them to get more involved in the decision-making process, but some don’t quite know where to start.

One of the simplest ways to make your voice heard in matters such as homelessness, mental health and affordable housing is to participate in the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meetings.

In this guide, we’ll show you how you can watch, learn and speak up at meetings. Read our guide for San Jose City Council meetings here.

What is the Board of Supervisors?

The Board of Supervisors oversees the operation of government and laws that concern Santa Clara County. Some of these include the county Office of Supportive Housing, the Department of Public Health, the Registrar of Voters and the Department of Behavioral Health Services. The board consists of five members, each representing a different part of the county. The board is chaired by a president selected by its members. The presidency usually rotates every calendar year. The vice president is chosen in a similar manner.

Watching Board of Supervisors meetings

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 9:30 a.m. Sometimes the board will schedule special meetings on different days. You can find a meeting schedule (more on that later) on the county’s board calendar.

The board must comply with the Brown Act, which governs how public meetings are run and aims to make them more accessible and transparent. The county is required to post its agenda at least three days before every meeting. A preliminary draft of the board’s agenda is usually posted the Friday before the meeting and is continuously updated until the day of the meeting.

If you want to watch the meeting live, you can do the following:

  • Zoom: The Zoom link for the board’s next meeting can be found on this page under the section “Teleconference Links for Upcoming Meetings.”
  • YouTube: Board meetings are livestreamed on the county’s official YouTube page.
  • Audio: The board also streams live audio of its meetings here.
  • TV: You can watch prerecorded meetings on channel 26 in San Jose.

Participating in meetings

Board of Supervisors meetings have a public comment period for people who wish to voice their opinion on items not on the agenda. Each person is typically given one minute to speak. Public comment is usually taken near the beginning of the meeting for items not on the agenda.

Remember: public comment is only for items not on the board’s agenda that day. If you have a comment for an item on the agenda, save it until the specific item is heard and the president asks for comments.

You can submit comments in the following ways:

  • In writing: You can submit written comments to [email protected]. Written comments will be attached to the meeting agenda under the item the comment is for. It’s best to leave a comment at least a day before the meeting to ensure it will be on the agenda.
  • While using Zoom: When public comment starts, you’ll be instructed to click the “Raise Your Hand” button at the bottom of the Zoom window. Your name will be called when it’s your turn and you’ll be unmuted. You’ll typically have one minute to speak. Callers tuning in by phone can do the same by pressing *9. You’ll have to unmute yourself when it’s your turn to speak by pressing *6.

Special accommodations can be requested at least a day before the meeting by contacting the board clerk at (408) 299-5001 or by email at [email protected].

Navigating Board of Supervisors meetings

Board of Supervisors meetings might be confusing (and long!) at first, but they all follow a particular order—some of it regulated by state law, some by county charter, some by convention and some by “Robert’s Rules of Order,” the Bible of parliamentary procedure.

Meetings usually begin as close to the posted 9:30 a.m. time as possible. They open with a roll call, an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by ceremonial items and then proclamations—declarations in celebration of special days such as Women’s History Month or Cesar Chavez Day.

Next comes public comment, where members of the public can speak about items that aren’t on the board’s agenda for that day.

After public comment is the “consent calendar,” or “consent” for short. This is a list of usually non-controversial items passed by a single vote of the board. Any supervisor or resident can comment on any consent item. Supervisors can pull any item off of the consent calendar for a broader discussion.

Now comes the meat of each meeting. Any items after the consent calendar are items of broad public interest. Each item opens with a presentation from county officials and sometimes comments from the supervisor (or supervisors) who proposed it.

Once the presentation is complete, the president usually calls for comments from the public, where residents can voice their opinion about the specific item. These items can be proposed ordinances, which change county law, or resolutions stating a proposed policy. Meeting agendas often include reports from staff that don’t require a vote. After the president closes comments from the public, supervisors debate the item. They can also ask questions of county officials who presented the item.

After supervisors are satisfied with the discussion, one of them can call for a “motion,” which usually means they’re ready to end debate and vote on the item. A motion requires a “second,” which is a second supervisor signaling concession to a vote. Items usually require a simple majority—three votes—to pass.

Even if an ordinance is passed at a meeting, it sometimes must come back for a “second reading,” or final vote, the following meeting.

Meet your representatives

The Board of Supervisors consists of five members, all elected by voters in the districts they live in. Supervisors are limited to three four-year terms. Seats in even-numbered districts are up for grabs in U.S. midterm election years, while seats in odd-numbered districts are up for grabs in presidential election years.

Near the beginning of the calendar year, the board chooses a president who chairs meetings and a vice president who chairs meetings in the president’s absence. Mike Wasserman is the board president as of this year. The vice president is subject to board approval. Susan Ellenberg is the vice president as of this year.

You can find your supervisor by entering your address here.

Here are the five supervisors and the districts they represent:

  • District 1 (Gilroy, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill and portions of South San Jose): Mike Wasserman
  • District 2 (East San Jose and downtown): Cindy Chavez
  • District 3 (Milpitas, North San Jose and northern Sunnyvale): Otto Lee
  • District 4 (Campbell, Santa Clara and West San Jose): Susan Ellenberg
  • District 5 (Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Saratoga and southern Sunnyvale): Joe Simitian

And here’s how long they’ve been in office:

  • Mike Wasserman: 2011-present. Reelected in 2014 and 2018, term ends in 2022. Not eligible for reelection.
  • Cindy Chavez: 2013-present. Reelected in 2016 and 2020, term ends in 2024. Not eligible for reelection.
  • Otto Lee: 2020-present. Term ends in 2024. Eligible for reelection.
  • Susan Ellenberg: 2019-present. Term ends in 2022. Eligible for reelection.
  • Joe Simitian: 2013-present. Reelected in 2016 and 2020, term ends in 2024. Not eligible for reelection.

Contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses for each supervisor, can be found by clicking on each supervisor’s picture here.

Other things to know

The day before each regular meeting, the board meets privately in “closed session.” Here, lawmakers discuss things such as lawsuits, labor union negotiations and personnel matters.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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