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Seal Beach Council Exiles Cell Phones

The Region

Noise: Lawmakers bar the devices from meetings, saying they cause distraction.

July 11, 2001|STANLEY ALLISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Driven to distraction by the chirps and rings of cell phones, Seal Beach this week became one of the first cities in the state to ban the devices from council meetings.

The decision was made in response to a recent rash of interruptions during council hearings and deliberations.

It comes as public institutions from churches to movie theaters are urging people to shut off their phones. Frustrations reached a boiling point in the small coastal town two weeks ago, when a cellular phone continued to ring as a resident addressed council members.

It prompted the ban's author, Councilman Bill Larson, to yell in frustration: "Answer the phone!" As it turned out, the cell phone belonged to the man at the podium who had left it at his seat.

Those attending Monday's council session were greeted with new signs that show a cell phone crossed out in the universal "NO" symbol of a circle and slash.

"I'm 80 years old and we got along for many, many years without cell phones," said Mayor William J. Doane, who represents the area's Leisure World retirement community. "If they have to have a cell phone going off all the time, they shouldn't be at the meetings."

Other communities including Dana Point and Santa Monica recently asked the public to switch off their cell phones, though some officials rely on residents' sense of common courtesy rather than passing specific rules to maintain decorum.

"We have had phones go off," said Dennis Barlow, Burbank's city attorney. "But if people start talking, we ask them to leave."

In regulating cell phone use, officials know they are walking a fine line. To many people, the wireless units are a lifeline needed to stay in touch with work, family and baby sitters. And time will tell whether the bans actually reduce public participation in local government by giving busy people another reason not to attend council meetings.

"It's a case of overkill," said Seal Beach resident Gordon Shanks, who attends most meetings. "There are too many rules. What are you going to do, have a policeman throw the offender out?"

Ban supporters say the issue comes down to common courtesy.

"It's incredibly rude to the people who speak" to be interrupted by the ringing, said Seal Beach City Manager John Bahorski.

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