Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 23, 2021

One of these things is not like the other

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

Remember when Trish Spencer’s appointee to the Open Government Commission, Carmen Reid, attempted to eliminate ad hoc committees from the City of Alameda by saying they should be subject to the Brown Act? And then we were told by another former Open Government Commissioner, Paul Foreman, that what Commissioner Reid was doing was not to invalidate the work of the Rename Jackson Park and Police Reform subcommittees, but it was a matter of principle. He should know because he helped her research these issues.

But the question still stands from the initial post on this subject. Alameda has had lots of ad hoc subcommittees structured similarly to the Rename Jackson Park and Police Reform subcommittees, why is it only now when we have two subcommittee which deliberately centered issues around racism that it became problematic to a point of rewriting the Sunshine Ordinance to stop operating ad hoc committees as we have done in the past.

As part of an agenda item on Sweeney Park and future work on the parcel there was a reference to:

 This may include surveys with Alameda Food Bank constituents, an online public meeting for additional input on the current design, meetings with the Sweeney Park Steering Committee and Community Garden Committee as well as a discussion with the Recreation and Parks Commission. [emphasis added]

Which also reminded me there was a subcommittee around DePave Park as well. So I asked about these committees, how often they met and who was on these committees. Apparently, much like the Rename Jackson Park committee all of these committees were appointed by City staff. Sweeney Park Community Garden Committee was first set up in 2014 and includes:

  • Alameda Point Collaborative – Jeff Bridges and Evan Krokowski
  • Alameda Backyard Growers – Ron Limoges, Alison Limoges, Marla Koss, Cynthia LaCroix, Damian Mason
  • Alameda County Master Gardeners – Birgitt Evans, Jasmine Tokuda
  • Alameda Food Bank – Cindy Houts, Janet Beatty
  • County Supervisor Chan’s Office – Steven Jones, Sarah Oddie
  • Kristoffer Koster who created the Master Plan pro bono for the city

According to City staff this group has not met since 2016 but was recently reconvened for input on the Urban Agriculture Phase design (which you can also give input on). City staff has said that will be in front of the Rec and Park Commission in March.

The Sweeney Park Steering Committee, also formed in 2014 met regularly through 2016, and was appointed by City staff. Also, according to the staff report, was reconvened for input on the Urban Agriculture Phase design. Those members are:

  • Damian Mason (provided reporting from the Garden Steering Committee)
  • Jim Sweeney
  • Dorothy Freeman
  • Victor Amador
  • Helena Lengel
  • Bill Delaney

And finally De-Pave Park Committee was also appointed by City Staff and met for a limited amount of time while the vision plan was being worked on. Those members include:

  • Ruth Abbe – CASA
  • Richard Bangert – long-time Alameda Point open space advocate
  • Irene Dieter – Sierra Club, Alameda Chapter
  • Linda Carloni – Golden Gate Audubon Society, Alameda Chapter and Friends of Alameda Wildlife Reserve
  • Leora Feeney – Golden Gate Audubon Society, Alameda Chapter and Friends of Alameda Wildlife Reserve
  • Jon Rosen Field, Cole Burchiel – SF Baykeeper
  • Joe Stack – paddling/camping community
  • Pamela Conrad, Kevin Conger and Arturo Fuentez-Ortiz – CMG, landscape architects for project

At no point did anyone who is now screaming for transparency on ad hoc committees protest the existence of all these ad hoc committees of the past. Can someone tell me what the difference is that makes the Rename Jackson Park Committee in need of reforming how we do ad hoc committees in Alameda that wasn’t triggered when these three other Rec and Park committees convened over the years?


  1. On a related topic, here is a message from Transform Alameda –

    We wanted to alert our community to something we felt could be a safety issue. Last week one of our Council-members, Trish Herrera Spencer, made public a list of 253 people who APPLIED to be in the Police Reform Subcommittees and Jackson Park Renaming Committee. The actual committee members’ names have been public since their inception. Trish has been a vocal critic of these committees and is leading the charge to make city ad hoc committees beholden to the Brown Act making them public proceedings. We fully support the work being done by the Steering Committee and the subcommittees as well as the park renaming. In fact, it is our hope that the city will indeed allow their full recommendations to be implemented and that actual reform will happen within the APD.

    If the people applying knew their information was going to be released this may not have been as problematic. But that is not the case. Additionally concerning is that there are minors on this list, youth in our community who just wanted to get involved. What adds fuel to the flame is that Ms. Spencer posted these lists among a group of people on NEXTDOOR (known to harbor Alameda’s radical right wing) who talk about being armed and want to “take back the city”. The context of the posting is highly concerning and unbecoming of any elected official. Posting in a thread of “armed citizens” who are upset and want action is inexcusable. Many listed fear retaliation for their work.

    We would also like to take note that these types of ad hoc committees have existed long before these were created. We find it apparent that the commonality of the committees is that both have a task of erasing white supremacy in our city. It is not a coincidence that these committees are under attack from Alameda’s old guard who are fine with the status quo and continue to uphold racism.

    Please email City Council to let them know your thoughts on Ms. Spencer’s action. If you are on those lists, we stand with you, our DM’s and email are always open.

    Comment by Reality — February 23, 2021 @ 7:38 am

  2. Ad hoc committees have been an important opportunity for non-elected Alamedans, who have an interest or expertise in certain issues to participate. In addition to the ones you mentioned above, there was also an ad hoc committee convened by then mayor spencer to advise the City Council on the selection of a City Manager. The Social Service Human Relations Board has utilized ad hoc committees on several occasions including Alamedans Together Against Hate, and the Sister City workgroup. As you pointed out, it wasn’t until citizens became engaged on addressing racial equity that complaints from the usual conservative reactionary groups arose.

    Comment by Doug Biggs — February 23, 2021 @ 7:42 am

    • On a related topic:

      Is this you Doug Biggs?

      McKay Ave/Wellness Center update. Alameda Point Collaborative Director Doug Biggs has applied for the Federal property at McKay Ave to be delisted from the Historical Advisory Board. By removing any physical constraints of the existing building, this would potentially allow Biggs to build a much larger facility.

      Public meeting on March 4 at 7pm:
      Historical Advisory Board Members
      Lynn Jones
      Alvin Lau
      Norman Sanchez
      Thomas Saxby
      Jenn Witt

      Comment by Observer — February 23, 2021 @ 1:26 pm

      • How is this even remotely related. Sounds like doing things the right way, submitting an application to an advisory or review board.

        Wait, did you meant this to be a “this you” gotcha meme thing?

        Comment by Not Observant Enough — February 23, 2021 @ 4:50 pm

      • Umm, it says my name in the application. The delisting is part of a larger review of the study list and removal of properties that have already been determined by the state or federal review agencies to not have any historic significance. But not sure how this is related to a discussion of ad hoc committees.

        Comment by Doug Biggs — February 23, 2021 @ 5:49 pm

  3. Great research. Did you get assistance from City Hall workers in this?

    Comment by research1979 — February 23, 2021 @ 8:35 am

    • Yeah, it’s called a public records request.

      Comment by Lauren Do — February 23, 2021 @ 9:02 am

  4. Your statement asserting that I am trying to re-write the Sunshine Ordinance is in error. City Council “rewrote” the Ordinance at the Council meeting of Feb. 4, 2020. Up to that time, the definition of a “policy body” subject to the notice and public access requirements of the ordinance in Sec. 2-91.1 (d) (3) included, “any committee or body created by the initiative of a policy body as a whole”. On Feb. 4, 2020 council approved a modification of Sec. 2-91.1 (d) (6) which added a phrase excluding ad hoc committees from the definition of a policy body unless established by Charter, Ordinance or Resolution of City Council. This “rewrite” of the Ordinance is in clear violation of Sec. 54952 (b) of the Brown Act which includes, “A commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decisionmaking or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body.”

    I, regrettably, failed to take notice of the Feb. 4 modification of the Ordinance until October of 2020 when a member of our BIPOC community brought it to my attention and again was brought to my attention last month by Carmen Reid., when I finally found the time to research it extensively and filed my complaint which will be heard by the OGC on March 1. Here is a link to the detail report for this complaint which will give you and any interested party full access to the issue.

    The simple answer to your question as to how these ad hoc committees differ from other ad hoc committees that have not adhered to the Brown Act is that they were, by your description, created by staff. The Brown Act only applies to committees created by a policy body. In this case that body was the Recreation and Park Commission that specifically directed a sub-committee thereof to establish the renaming committee.

    There may have been ad hoc committees initiated by a policy body before Feb. 4 that did not abide by the Sunshine Ordinance, but it is important to note that the specific reason given by the Executive Director of Rec and Park for not abiding by the Brown Act was the Feb. 4, 2020 ad hoc exception. She had every good reason to rely on that exception. The fault is not with her, the Commission, or the members of the renaming committee. That is why I am not seeking to invalidate their work. The fault is with the Office of City Attorney which drafted and recommended the ad hoc exception to Council. I am trying to cure that error to avoid future violations of the Brown Act.

    You and many others may believe that an ad hoc committee established by a policy body on one hand or staff on the other is a distinction without a difference. That is a reasonable argument to make to the State legislature to amend the Brown Act, but it does not give us license to ignore and evade it. I was gratified to watch the last Council Meeting when the Executive Director of Rec and Park suggested modifications to the City renaming policy that included making citizen committees subject to the Brown Act. Her suggestion drew specific approval from three Council Members and no dissent from any Council Member.

    Comment by Paul Foreman — February 23, 2021 @ 8:56 am

    • Police reform committee was created by staff but you and Commissioner Reid seem to be focused on the work of that commission too.

      Comment by Lauren Do — February 23, 2021 @ 9:03 am

    • And essentially you have noted that the Rec and Park Director followed the Sunshine Ordinance which was adopted by the City Council but because the outcome is one that is distasteful to either you or the people who have your ear you’d like to change the Sunshine Ordinance once again. Got it.

      Comment by Lauren Do — February 23, 2021 @ 9:08 am

    • Wow, that’s a whole lot of words to say that you just want to target the committees your backwards ass organization doesn’t like! Small Town Tyrants!

      Comment by Rod — February 23, 2021 @ 9:12 am

      • you got it Rod, Paul Foreman wouldn’t know the “TRUTH” if it hit him in the head.

        Comment by John P. — February 23, 2021 @ 10:18 am

    • Paul Foreman – you’re intentionally truncating the full language of Sec. 54952 (b) of the Brown Act, which includes an important exemption, so I will capitalize the key missing part for you:

      A commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decisionmaking or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body. HOWEVER, ADVISORY COMMITTEES, COMPOSED SOLELY OF THE MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATIVE BODY THAT ARE LESS THAN A QUORUM OF THE LEGISLATIVE BODY ARE NOT LEGISLATIVE BODIES, except that standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter.

      Comment by JRB — February 23, 2021 @ 10:18 am

    • Thank you, Mr. Foreman: “The simple answer to your question as to how these ad hoc committees differ from other ad hoc committees that have not adhered to the Brown Act is that they were, by your description, created by staff. The Brown Act only applies to committees created by a policy body. In this case that body was the Recreation and Park Commission that specifically directed a sub-committee thereof to establish the renaming committee.”

      Comment by anonymous — February 23, 2021 @ 10:44 am

      • anonymous – Please read the actual Brown Act language, not just the cherry-picked portion by Paul Foreman. There is an exemption that allows for advisory committees that are less than a quorum and are for a short duration (i.e. not a “continuing subject matter jurisdiction”). So in this case, the Recreation and Park Commission created the renaming committee, which did not have a quorum, and was for a very specific and limited purpose, thus did not have to adhere to the Brown Act. The School Board makes many committees all the time to address specific needs, but interesting that these are not being brought up at all.

        Comment by JRB — February 23, 2021 @ 10:53 am

    • Remind me again Mr. Foreman, where is it exactly you’re admitted to practice law?

      Comment by Eyeroll — February 23, 2021 @ 1:49 pm

  5. Thanks Lauren for reporting this….

    Black History month is a great opportunity to expand one’s knowledge about the history of the African American journey in this country, and if you re African American to commit to learning everything you can about your ancestors – no matter how painful the journey is. We owe it to our ancestors to know them by name – to know where and how they lived, to know where they are buried – to honor them.

    One of the hardest things I’ve had to do as part of my search for my great great grandparents is to search deed records and slave bill of sale records to try and find them. Slave bill of sale records show the purchase and sale of slaves from one plantation owner to another, very much like how a land transaction is recorded — but here we’re talking about the sale of human beings.

    The OTHER hard thing is to learn (and this is also recorded) that for every step forward African Americans took towards freedom and gaining basic rights, they took several steps backwards on the journey to progress.

    Here are some of the simple basic rights they had to fight for:

    the right to be free
    the right to learn to read (at one time it was illegal for African Americans to be able to read)
    the right to marry
    the right to own land
    the right not be raped (it was common for slave women to be raped by their masters)
    the right not to be lynched (thousands of slaves were lynched to enforce fear)
    and the right to assemble

    It was illegal for slaves to assemble unless a white person was present, or unless a white person gave them permission to assemble. This practice continued after slavery during Jim Crow to maintain control over African Americans.

    Sadly, the issue continues today.

    Comment by Karen Bey — February 23, 2021 @ 10:00 am

    • Peace Karen,

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. To your point regarding assembly, I have recently been sharing the “slave codes” and “Black codes” and other criminal codes to share that connection between laws the restrict Black folks from assembling without permission. It is amazing to see similarities between the 1740 South Carolina “Negro Act” and other laws and policies nearly 300 years later.

      That perspective is why I also encourage and support the formation of independent Black organizations and institutions.

      For multiple reasons, I am neither expressing an opinion or perspective on the questions raised in this blog or beyond, but your comment and my interest in African American and colonial histories deserved a thank you. Thank you!

      Comment by Rasheed Shabazz — February 23, 2021 @ 12:35 pm

      • I’ll have to read up on the 1740 South Caroline Act to learn more. I just watched a documentary called “The Elaine Massacre: The Red Summer” on Prime Video last week, and was saddened by the killings of over 200 African Americans killed because they were holding house meetings trying to change/improve the sharecropper laws. Sharecropping was another form of slavery that kept freedmen indebted to the plantation owner which prevented them from ever making a profit to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

        Comment by Karen Bey — February 23, 2021 @ 1:18 pm

  6. What are some of those similar policies between 1740 and today?

    Comment by "Historian" — February 23, 2021 @ 12:51 pm

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