Helping Our Peninsula's Environment
 
Does the City of Pacific Grove Comply with Sunshine Laws?

Copyright 2003 David Dilworth

Your Two Fundamental Rights -
  • To Fair Governmental Decisions, and 
  • To Participate In Them. 
How well does your government provide these to you?
        I've always held librarians in the highest esteem. This is probably due to the wonderful way our Pacific Grove librarians treated me as a youngster. I remember them always pleasantly greeting me, setting aside their other work and helping me find whatever I was looking for. That is a model for how other Pacific Grove city offices should treat public requests to read or copy information held by our city. Unfortunately, our city is not run by our gracious librarians. 

Democracy Includes Rights
Democracy exists when the public influences the important decisions of their lives. In a genuine participatory democracy you have two rights. 

  • The right to a fair decision based on facts and reasons,  after
  • you have been allowed to exercise your right to participate in a fair and thorough process. This includes being able to adequately review all relevant documents held by the government. 
Starting participating in Pacific Grove politics while in high school decades ago, it is my continuing experience that if you cannot find at least one violation of our state open meeting law or California's Environmental Quality Act at each Pacific Grove council meeting -- you simply haven't looked hard enough. I believe the attitude of city officials of Pacific Grove to public concerns, public participation, public oversight and state public interest laws can be summed up in a single word -- hostility. 

While there are a few wonderful exceptions, in general Mayor Morrie Fisher, the Council (Shenk, Stidham, Costello, Renz, Gasperson), City Manager Ross Hubbard, City Financial Officer (Controller) Peter Woodruff, City Attorneys David Flesichman & Michael Jenks, and many staff simply --

  • do not want us knowing what they are doing, 
  • do not care, or want to know, what we think about it, and most of all --
  • do not want us interfering in any way with their decisions -- which are made in private -- prior to City Council meetings. 
But this is not a new phenomena - it has been going on for as long as I can remember (though usually with a few good exceptions). Secret government in Pacific Grove is more like a culture or an institution. However, Pacific Grove is not alone in this, Monterey County is not far behind - remember the huge Public Records lawsuit won by Michael Stamp against the County Planning Department? 

Whose Town is it?
Unlike our librarians, our city officials act as though they own our town and the documents held at city hall; that it is their personal private property - rather than the public's. Perhaps most amazingly they barely try to hide it. You've surely heard about the City refusing Councilwoman Goldbeck's request for overtime records. That's hardly the tip of the iceberg. Here are just a few other recent examples. 

  • Beginning in Mayor Koffman's term and now continuing with Mayor Fisher's administration the city has refused to make public a document explaining public records policy. In recent years the city has refused to allow public review of the City Budget, Sewer Repair Cost Consultant's Report, Raccoon capture records, and sewer smoke testing dates and locations. 
  • Mayor Fisher's 2003 attempts, and ex-Mayor Koffman's persistent but so far failed attempts to put public comment at the end of Council meetings -- after the media have left, and after the recording for Saturday morning television has stopped and potentially after four council people have left - losing a quorum and ending the meeting without any public comment. 
  • Ex-Mayor Koffman's failed attempt to reduce the number of votes it would take to approve new development (July 15, 2002) 
  • Ex-Mayor Koffman holding private meetings with developers (Monterey Herald May 23, 2002) 
  • Ex-Mayor Koffman threatening Councilman Dan Davis when he tried to put an item on the Council agenda.  
  • The current council's unashamed antagonism to valid agenda items placed by councilwoman Goldbeck. 
It is also outrageously common in Pacific Grove for those in power to disregard laws painstakingly crafted by our Legislature and signed by our governors, as "silly little technicalities" to use the words of former councilwoman Michelle Knight. At the time she was denigrating our state Conflict of Financial Interest law preventing her from getting water for her mansion until she resigned from the Council. 

President John F. Kennedy said - 

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, 
make violent revolution inevitable." 

Kennedy could well have been referring to open meetings and the strong zeal citizens have for voting out elected officials who trample on public participation at meetings. 

In a genuine democracy, you and I give authority to government to make decisions about our world. We do not need to beg the condescending local politicians to allow us to participate. Consider this preamble to a California Open Meeting law - California Government Code Section 11120 - 

"It is the public policy of this state that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business and the proceedings of public agencies be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed.

"In enacting this article the Legislature finds and declares that it is the intent of the law that actions of state agencies be taken openly and that their deliberation be conducted openly.

"The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.
The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
 

So how do we fix this?

Pacific Grove's hostility to public participation and the public interest might be tempered with a Sunshine Law like the ones adopted by the voters of San Francisco, Oakland and several other California cities. 

Pacific Grove voters can adopt a Sunshine law which includes serious enforcement provisions and can require that the city provide far more public participation than the minimum required by our state Open meeting Law called the Brown Act and the Public Records Act. 

So lets - let the sunshine in.

A sunshine law can require -- 
  • Giving the public more time before a meeting to know what is on an Agenda, so you can call staff and get questions answered before the meeting,  
  • Allowing the public to place items on the Agenda - when elected officials refuse to do so,
  • Providing the public the same amount of time to speak as developers,
  • The creation of a Sunshine Task Force made up of members of specified public interest organizations such as Common Cause, Society of Professional Journalists and League of Women Voters. 
Click here to see - Model Sunshine Ordinances

A slightly shorter version of this was originally published in the PG Press Oct 1, 2003. They "invited Mayor Fisher, two councilpeople, the city manager, the city attorney and a private citizen to contribute an article supporting the city's record concerning Sunshine laws. All declined."

David Dilworth is Executive Director of Helping Our Peninsula's Environment, founded in 1998, is a non-profit, tax deductible, public interest group teaching Environmental Science and Law and Public Participation to local citizens and advocating for protection of our Monterey Peninsula's natural land, air and water ecosystems. 

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This Page Last Updated April 3, 2004

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