Giving Public Comment
Speaking up for what you care about can change minds, especially when our electeds at city council, planning commission, or other public hearings hear from their neighbors and those most impacted. It’s one of the best ways you can have your voice heard by decision-makers. The best public comments are prepared, thoughtful and clear.
Whether you’re speaking at a public hearing, local government meeting, or sending an email – the same guidelines apply in making effective public comments. Speaking to decision makers directly is generally more impactful, unless you’re attempting to share a lot of information with cited references.
A great comment has four elements
- INTRO: Each public comment should start with your first and last name and what city or town you reside in. It is also helpful to decision-makers if you can give a one sentence overview or “ask” for the governing body right at the start.
- WHY: How will this decision impact you personally, and how will it impact the greater good?
- MORE DETAIL: Include outside references or your own expertise/view as a member of the public.
- CLOSING: Reiterate your position. Thank them for their attention.
- BE CONCISE: You have only a short time (usually 30 seconds – 2 minutes) to get your point(s) across. Writing out your comment and timing yourself before the meeting will help ensure that you hit all of the points you need to hit within your allotted time. Try to stick to no more than three topics/points in your comment.
- SPEAK SLOWLY: By speaking slowly, you will be heard and understood by all. The governing body values your testimony and they know you’re taking time out of your day to speak. Additionally, the staff member recording testimony needs to understand what you’re saying in order to record it for the public record.
- BE POLITE: If you’re frustrated with something the Council has or has not acted upon, then it’s better to rephrase your comment as “I hope you consider doing (xyz) because (abc).” Alienating the decision-makers does not work in your favor.
- TELL YOUR STORY: It is important to state that you’re a resident of Santa Clara County (or wherever you’re commenting), especially if you live in a particular community that will be impacted by a policy or action, or a lack of one.
- CONNECT YOURSELF TO THE DECISION: Decision-makers want to know what the impacts of their actions will be on people or what they value. Be sure to mention if a policy or action will directly impact to you and your family, or if you have expertise in a certain industry or profession.
New to giving public comment in support of housing at meetings? This helpful guide from CA YIMBY gives you specific examples on what to say by topic, including housing for racial equity, housing for economic opportunity, and housing for sustainable communities. This is a great way to get engaged quickly!
Want more? Check out the monthly Public Comment Workshop from our Partners at YIMBY Action!
Writing Op-Eds, Letters to the Editor, and Editorial Board Memos
Our partner NPH is the anchor organization for the Shift the Bay initiative, developing research-driven and field-practiced strategies, tactics, and messages that can help us grow public support and political will, that can change hearts and minds, and seize this powerful moment to drive new narratives for our movement. They have lots of great resources at ShifttheBay.org to help with messaging and narrative strategies!
As part of the Shift the Bay initiative, NPH hosted a media training led by M+R Communications, Opinion Pieces: Writing Op-Eds, Letters to the Editor, and Editorial Board Memos, which reviewed tips on how to write effective opinion pieces and increase the chances of getting your piece published. Check it out below, and use narrative strategies from the Seize the Narrative Playbook and accompanying Message Guide to develop a frame that names the urgency and opportunity of this moment while placing the responsibility on our government to act in the best interest of people.