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COVID-19 Update: Suspension of Brown Act Provisions and Event Cancellation Issues

The spread of Coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19, is a monumental public health issue that is impacting every corner of California. The outbreak is forcing public agencies and businesses throughout the state to deal with a wide range of novel health, safety, employment, and contracting issues.

Governor Newsom Suspends Portions of Brown Act

Today, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order taking a wide range of extraordinary actions in an effort to combat COVID-19, including suspending limited portions of the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law for local agencies. The Brown Act generally permits members of a legislative body to participate in a meeting of the body by teleconference subject to certain limitations including (1) the teleconference location being identified in the agenda for the meeting; and (2) each location being accessible to the public. Additionally, at least a quorum of the legislative body must participate from within the agency’s jurisdiction.

What Can Public Agencies Do Now?

The Governor’s executive order suspends these requirements and similar rules regarding teleconferencing and electronic meetings in an effort to promote social distancing, as long as there is at least one publically accessible location from which a member of the public may participate in the meeting. This order allows all members of a legislative body to now participate in a meeting electronically or by phone. We recommend consulting with legal counsel before noticing meetings to approve controversial agenda items in reliance on the Governor’s Executive Order.

Responding to Event Cancellations

Some County health officers have banned “mass gatherings” of more than 1,000 people in any confined indoor or outdoor space, and the California Department of Public Health currently recommends canceling events of 250 people, or smaller events in venues where social distancing of six feet per person is not feasible. These orders and directives raise a number of issues for public agencies and businesses:

  • Is an order to cancel large events from the State or a local public health department a “force majeure” occurrence under a contract? What about a directive or recommendation?
  • Does the Coronavirus outbreak excuse performance of contracts unrelated to large events?
  • If organizers refuse to cancel a large event, what authority does a local agency have to forcibly close the event?
  • Does a public agency have the authority to ban smaller events than those prohibited by the relevant health department?

Meyers Nave attorneys are assisting clients in navigating these and other issues raised by Coronavirus. If you have questions, need assistance or would like more information, please contact the leader of the Meyers Nave Practice Group that provides the area of legal expertise that is tailored to your area of interest.