Opinion | The Irvine City Council Cannot and Should Not Consider a Resolution About Gaza

At the Irvine City Council meeting on December 12, 2023, Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilmember Larry Agran indicated they may call for a resolution seeking a ceasefire in the Gaza-Israel conflict. While the issue tugs at the heartstrings, such a resolution would be illegal. The Municipal Code explicitly forbids the Council from even considering this “nonmunicipal” matter.

It’s also bad policy for the Council to take a position on the Gaza conflict. Irvine’s diverse residents have ties to countries around the world. At any given moment, one or more foreign conflicts impact Irvine residents. Adopting a resolution on Gaza would open the floodgates to groups advocating for Council resolutions about other conflicts.

Fortunately, the Code offers an alternative to Council action: Individual Councilmembers may publicly express their personal opinion about Gaza, outside of City Council meetings.

Irvine Municipal Code Section 1-2-317 Limits Council’s Jurisdiction to Local Matters

The governing Irvine Municipal Code plainly prohibits the Council from considering matters that extend beyond local municipal issues:

Sec. 1-2-317. – Nonmunicipal matters

“The City Council will not consider or act upon matters of a nonmunicipal nature, such as political endorsements, measures submitted to voters, and bond issues or tax overrides of other agencies. While individual members of the Council may take public positions concerning nonmunicipal affairs, they shall not do so during or as part of any City meeting or official function.”

The conflict in Gaza, which is thousands of miles from Irvine, is “nonmunicipal in nature.” The US federal government handles national foreign policy and, per the Municipal Code, our City Council cannot.

Mayor Khan previously confirmed this as Mayor-Elect at the Council meeting of November 24, 2020. At the time, she cited Sec. 1-2-317 as a reason why the Council could not make a resolution about a different international conflict stating:

“We have such a diverse population in our city. People we consider friends and neighbors from all backgrounds. Many of them are from countries that are in conflict. And I don’t feel it is our job to interfere with international affairs…We do have a section of the Municipal Code, Section 1-2-317 that states, ‘The City Council will not consider or act upon matters of a nonmunicipal nature’… This international issue should not be voted on us…Our job is to make sure we are united as a community and not cause further divisions.” (See video clip at https://www.occitizensforethicalgovernment.org/ )

For these same reasons, the Council cannot now consider a resolution about the conflict in Gaza.

Public Can’t Comment on Gaza at City Council Meetings

Under a City rule, the public is not permitted to comment on the Gaza conflict at City Council meetings. As noted on each City Council agenda, public comments must pertain to matters within the Council’s jurisdiction. The rule reads:

“Any member of the public may address the City Council on items within the City Council’s subject matter jurisdiction but which are not listed on this agenda.” (See, e.g., “Public Comments-Non-Agendized Items” on the agenda of December 12, 2023).

As noted, the Gaza issue is outside of the Council’s jurisdiction. Public comment on the issue at Council meetings is inappropriate. The City Attorney and/or the Mayor should cut off such comments.

A Resolution Would Open the Door to Demands on Other Conflicts

The City’s website indicates Irvine is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country.  Residents have family and cultural ties to most parts of the globe. Multiple foreign conflicts cause distress and have a personal impact on local residents.

But making City resolutions about overseas matters is bad policy. If the Council considers a resolution concerning the conflict in Gaza, it will open the door to demands for resolutions concerning other conflicts in the world. The City lacks the resources to investigate and take positions on a flood of foreign affairs matters. Such resolutions also draw the Council away from pressing Irvine municipal matters that need the Council’s full attention.

Solution: Councilmembers May Express Personal Opinions Outside of Council Meetings

The Municipal Code provides Councilmembers with a way to address nonmunicipal foreign affairs matters. Section 1-2-317 states: “While individual members of the Council may take public positions concerning nonmunicipal affairs, they shall not do so during or as part of any City meeting or official function.”

That is, although the Code prohibits the Council from considering resolutions concerning Gaza, it permits members to express their personal opinions outside of Council meetings.  Individual members can issue statements, give speeches, attend protests, and such in line with their personal beliefs about the Gaza conflict.