Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 19, 2010

Walking on sunshine

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, School — Tags: , — Lauren Do @ 6:34 am

So the first dispute over the Sunshine Committee was who the Committee should report to. The Mayor and Doug deHaan firmly on the side of the Sunshine Committee should report to the Interim City Manager and everyone else (Frank Matarrese, Marie Gilmore, and Lena Tam) feeling as though the Sunshine Committee should report back to the City Council.

The City Attorney then steps in with some convoluted reasoning that a “Task Force” or “Ad Hoc group” since they are doing “the work of City staff” would report directly to the Interim City Manager as opposed to an “Advisory Group” which would report to the City Council. The difference between the two is that advisory groups aren’t subject to the Brown Act open meeting rules and the task force/ad hoc groups are.

To compare, the City of San Jose which went through a similar process – they called it the Sunshine Reform Task Force – had their “task force” report directly to the City Council. And in fact, the report produced by the task force with the recommendations was directed to the City Council and not the City Manager.

One of the most interesting things about the work being done in San Jose is that the second phase of the Sunshine Reform Task Force is

…defining appropriate conduct for City employees, officials and those who do business or volunteer with the City (Ethics and Conduct); by suggesting upgrades and changes to the way information is organized and presented on the City’s website (Technology); by defining the City’s structure and processes for addressing potential violations of Open Government regulations (Administration and Accountability); and by defining what documents and information are open to the public (Public Records)…

According to the report to the City Council with these recommendations, the Task Force received some push back from the City staff who reviewed the recommendations, one of the conflicts was over the process for addressing violations of open government laws, the Task Force apparently feeling as though a body outside of City staff should address these issues, and City staff disagreeing. Which is why it’s good for the Task Force to present their ideas without having to run them by the highest City gatekeeper in the first place.

Anyway, back to Alameda.   Some of Mayor Johnson’s comments typified why there is a need for a Sunshine Committee in the first place.   While both Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore were explaining that their expectations for the Sunshine Committee is to identify issues that are important for the community that the City Council may not see because they are in a different position with regard to access to City related information.    They both saw the need for the Sunshine Committee to both prioritize the issues of importance and analyze possible solutions to these issues while Beverly Johnson felt as though even if the group came back with prioritized issues, that the Council should feel free to “rearrange them” if the Council doesn’t agree.   Her justification is that the Council may see issues that the Committee does not.

Fair enough, but, you’re on the fricken City Council.   If there is something that you see that you don’t think is appropriately sunshine-y enough, you have the authority to do something about it.   You don’t need to wait around to rearrange the prioritized list of a citizen committee, made up of some pretty strong community folks by the way, including a former Assistant City Manager: Rob Wonder.

And Beverly Johnson (tag teaming with Doug deHaan) keep on a message of “we need to see the list, we need to see the list” for practically the whole conversation.   They both try to say it’s because they don’t want the task force to get so deep into the process only to turn around and have the Council reject their work.   But here’s the thing: each Council member has appointed a person to the committee.   I’m going on the assumption here it’s someone that they trust well enough that if each individual council person had a pet issue that they wanted to advance they could tell that person and that person would more likely than not work to bring that issue to prominence.   That’s the whole reason why everyone gets a pick.

In the end, Beverly Johnson, probably tired of bickering over something that she probably really doesn’t care about says that as long as the Committee puts the five items identified by the Council already first:

  • Extend the noticing requirements for public meetings beyond 72 hours;
  • Provide direction on Public Records Act requests regarding cost and turnaround time;
  • Develop guidelines regarding the minimum radius that must be used when notifying neighbors about land use matters;
  • Expand campaign finance reports disclosure;
  • Consider a registry for City lobbyists.

Then she doesn’t care what else that the group wants to do.   That she just wants to “make sure they cover our issues.”  Just a reminder, those “issues” were not actually “issues” that the Council had decided upon.   But rather, four of the five (the minimum radius thing is the exception) were topics that Lena Tam had initially suggested when she had first brought up the Sunshine Committee. under the Council Referral.    So the notion that Beverly Johnson or the rest of the Council have some sort of ownership over those issues as particular pet items of interest appears to be a smokescreen for some other reason why there is an insistence to “see the list.”

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Susan Davis and Michele Ellson both reported that Kerry Cook of Alameda Concerned Parents have filed suit against the School District alleging Brown Act violations stemming from the Lesson 9 discussions.


  1. The lack of transparency in city government and the poor quality of the city’s website are related issues. Public disclosure has not been a priority. This is not a new issue and many have commented on the problem for years. It is good to see that the matter is now getting some attention. The public’s business needs to be conducted openly and the public’s records need to be made easily available to all.

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — February 19, 2010 @ 7:38 am

  2. Where the sun don’t shine.

    Yesterday’s Sun shined a shadowed light with the notification that: “Changes to Parking Laws in Effect”.

    Now, I suppose the CC instigated these changes in response to APD’s urging and somewhere in the bowels of the city, important groups chewed facts and ruminated consequences before the ca-ca was flushed to the Sun but maybe the results might let fewer fumes if a little more sun was shined on the process.

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 19, 2010 @ 8:59 am

  3. Ooh…that was a good headline Jack. I might have to borrow that one of these days.

    Comment by Lauren Do — February 19, 2010 @ 9:50 am

  4. Even governmental agencies (and personnel) with good intentions often fall short of providing really good public notice and are not adequately transparent.

    The City of Alameda has, in the past, worked hard to comply with the letter and the standards of the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, but the City’s record is imperfect, especially since last year around some (development and transportation) issues, IMHO.

    The Sunshine Committee (SC) will be able to do its job better if it is, itself, fully accountable and transparent, and if it reports directly to the City Council. Filtering an SC through the staff looks and smells funny to me, as if someone is already trying to hide something or limit the “reach” of sunshine into city affairs.

    Council member Tam’s initial list of suggested agenda items for the Sunshine Committee should only serve as a “starter” agenda for the SC and the group should be encouraged to shine as much light as necessary in every nook and cranny of City government.

    And the Council and staff should welcome such a wide-ranging examination or they are in the wrong business.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — February 19, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  5. Jack. If I read the new parking laws correctly, you can drive an R.V. or tow a boat trailer around Alameda 24 hours a day but you cannot stop to park anywhere in this city.

    Now if the city would just enforce the laws they already have on the books it would be nice.
    I have seen an R.V. parked on the street in the West End for about three years in the exact same spot, with a hose and power cord dangling across the side walk. I guess I’m the only one who has noticed it.

    Comment by John Piziali — February 19, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

  6. I agree, John. I guess, under the old code RV’s apparently were treated as standard passenger vehicles. Under the revised code they’re treated as “large” vehicles, whatever that is, and forbidden to be parked anywhere on city residential streets. The Sun doesn’t describe what a “heavy commercial vehicle” is but apparently they cannot be parked in residential areas even if garaged and out of sight.

    Frankly, I’d like the same attention the city pays to managing RV’s and such as they should pay to those screechy ass booming traveling sound machines that drown out all other sounds in residential (or any other) neighborhoods while they amble along being cool.

    Comment by Jack Richard — February 20, 2010 @ 9:42 am

  7. Lauren,

    You have to keep up the good work on the inner workings of City Hall. It’s a mess over there and the City Manager is the Pied Piper of most of the Council and City Attorney. She is turning Alameda into Southern CA. You, Michelle, Lena and Marie need to keep up the good work and fight the fight to save Alameda!

    Comment by R.U. Amuckraker — February 22, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

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