Commentary: Transparency under attack by state
by By Frank Z. Kertai
Jun 24, 2013 | 8037 views | 0 0 comments | 306 306 recommendations | email to a friend | print

 

For the Press-Banner

 

State politics at its worst was on full-fledged display in Sacramento on Friday, June 14, 2013 as the State Legislature Democratic supermajority approved Assembly Bill AB 76 at the behest of Gov. Jerry Brown.  This bill — which will limit the public’s ability to request public data and documents from local government — was introduced by the Committee on Budget which includes Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, of the 29th District representing a large portion of the Bay Area, including Scotts Valley.

As far as I am aware, there has been neither public discussion of this bill nor any input from the public. Why discuss the proposed gutting the California Public Records Act (CPRA),  the single most important piece of legislation enacted in the last half century in California, when you can simply sweep it under the rug? The governor plans to do just that with the swish of a pen.

Apparently Governor Brown’s intention is to reduce the impact of State mandates.  Currently, local government agencies seek reimbursement from the State for the cost of complying with CPRA requests from the public. The cost of the inability of the public to obtain information from the government will be much worse than the supposed cost reductions sought by Governor Brown.

The sole Democratic dissenter to the passage of this legislation was Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, quoted in the Fresno Bee, "It's not about saving money. It's all about curtailing an open, transparent government that can be held accountable."

The City of Scotts Valley paid top dollar for two parcels in the middle of a real estate depression with no appraisal for one property and an out of date appraisal for the other. The Scotts Valley Water District commissioned a report allowing a developer to avoid paying for a water tower in a hillside development helping the developer make millions selling view lots. The County of Santa Cruz incorrectly allocated six figures in property tax receipts for 60 properties among local agencies.  None of this information would have been discoverable, and in one case correctable, without the power of the CPRA. You may not be able to stop bad behavior of local government officials, but you can at least you can point it out.

Legislation enacting the CPRA was originally signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968, culminating a 15-year struggle to create a general records law for California. In 2004, the State Legislature proposed Proposition 59 as an amendment to the California Constitution, introducing freedom of information or “sunshine” provisions. This legislation was adopted unanimously by the California State Senate and Assembly. California voters overwhelmingly (83 percent) approved Prop 59 in the 2004 November election.

The purpose of Proposition 59 is to: 1) Provide public access to meetings of government bodies and writings of government officials, 2) Provide that statutes and rules furthering public access shall be broadly construed, or narrowly construed if limiting access, 3) Require future statutes and rules limiting access to contain findings justifying necessity of those limitations, 4) Preserve constitutional rights including rights of privacy, due process, equal protection; expressly preserves existing constitutional and statutory limitations restricting access to certain meetings and records of government bodies and officials, including law enforcement and prosecution records, 5) Exempts Legislature’s records and meetings.

AB 76 suggests that local governments follow the existing law and consider it as “best practices” rather than a requirement. Local government agencies will not have to follow the CPRA by simply declaring orally each year that they will not do so.

During Governor Brown’s first term in the 1970’s, there was much talk about “being cool” and giving “power to the people.” Knowledge is power. Governor Brown’s approval of AB 76 will take power away from the people and make open and transparent governance harder to obtain. His planned action is definitely not cool. Given recent government surveillance revelations, it is seems fair and right that citizens should be able to continue to monitor government activities.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently stated: “If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Public pressure can make a difference with this legislation. Urge the governor to reject AB 76 by contacting him at: http://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php.

Frank Kertai is a Scotts Valley resident.

 

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