How much in monetary penalties should Pacific Gas & Electric have to pay for its responsibility for the explosive gas pipeline leak that charred a residential area of San Bruno in 2010, killing six and injuring scores? That issue is before an administrative law judge of the California Public Utilities Commission, and San Bruno thinks that the Commission’s top executive has been trying improperly to influence the judge’s decision. The city filed repeated Public Records Act requests for telltale emails, but has been put off long and often enough that, as reported by Sam Singer in a Business Wire release for the city, it’s filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court to force the records’ disclosure.
The California Public Records Act protects the use records of those—residents and businesses—who are customers of local governmental utilities like water districts and municipal utility districts. That makes it hard for the public to know for certain whether, and if so by how much, those users are consuming excessive water in the current drought—with three important exceptions. Government Code §6254.16 provides: Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require the disclosure of the name, credit history, utility usage data, home address, or telephone number of utility customers of local agencies, except that disclosure of name, utility usage data, and the home address of utility customers of local agencies shall be made available upon request as follows: To an agent or authorized family member of the person to whom the information pertains. To an officer or employee of another governmental agency when necessary for the performance of its official duties. Upon court order or the request of a law enforcement agency relative to an ongoing investigation. Upon determination by the local agency that the utility customer who is the subject of the request has used utility services in a manner inconsistent with applicable local utility usage policies. Upon determination by the local agency that the utility customer who is the subject of the request is an elected or appointed official with authority to determine the utility usage policies of the local agency, provided that the home address of an appointed official shall not be disclosed without his or her consent. Upon determination by the local agency that the public interest in disclosure of the information clearly outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure. Subdivision (e) discourages those who set utility consumption policies, including drought rationing, from […]
FREE SPEECH CalAware-supported bill adds teeth to Brown Act protection for citizens’ right to comment at local government meetings OPEN GOVERNMENT CalAware-sponsored proposal would put charter amendment on San Diego’s June ballot requiring fact-based reasons for secrecy WHISTLEBLOWERS The Dreyfus Affair’s unsung whistleblower, whose fate set the pattern for leaks threatening a national security elite FREE PRESS Appeals court setting precedent for federal courts in California rules bloggers can’t be sued for libel without proof of fault OPEN MEETINGS Monterey Supervisors’ use of frequent “performance evaluation” closed sessions to direct policy moves will get D.A.’s scrutiny
Thank you, every one, who’s included Californians Aware on your holiday season public service gift list. Also, thank you in advance to others who have waited to this point to contribute. We have never needed your thoughtfulness more, and it counts fully as a tax-deductible charitable gift. If you can help us, you can send a check to Californians Aware at 2218 Homewood Way, Carmichael, CA 95608, or choose another contribution option at http://calaware.org/support/donation. Happy New Year! Terry Francke General Counsel
The California Judicial Council, governing body of the state court system, has shown itself reluctant to adopt a proposed rule that would open meetings of its standing and other advisory committees—where most court policy development takes place—to public phone monitoring or attendance. The Council was asked by the Legislature to report progress toward such a rule on January 1. The Legislative Analyst’s Office encouraged the Council to take the initiative when Governor Brown this fall vetoed a budget rider that would have required open advisory meetings. But, as reported by Maria Dinzeo for Courthouse News Service and lamented by the Alliance of California Judges, the Council was cool toward the recommended access rules outlined in the when it met last Thursday in San Francisco. Californians Aware commented on the first draft of the proposed rules in November but expressed encouragement that they were even being considered.
CalAware’s Yule Blog is wishing all celebrants of whatever warms them at this chilly corner of the year—faith, tradition or just mindful cheer—a happy pause to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, perhaps most of all the youngest and the eldest. To you, as a CalAware Today subscriber, we also ask a donation of support for at least the news and views we bring; if that’s your only contact with CalAware and you know nothing else about what we do, we humbly suggest a stocking stuffer, so to speak, of at least $25. If you’d like some basis for giving that much or more, for perspective, in 2013 we’ve completed publication of the ebook version of our revised journalism law guide (with the paperback due to be available soon); thanks to litigator Kelly Aviles, our Vice President for Open Government Compliance, partnered with the Los Angeles Times to successfully enforce the Brown Act in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission; again thanks to Kelly, partnered with the Voice of OC in fighting the good fight all the way to the state Supreme Court (but without success to date) to obtain public records showing how female employees’ repeated complaints of sexual predation by an Orange County official went unheeded for eight years; conducted an audit of all the state’s trial and appellate courts to check their compliance with the 2010 Rule of Court that for the first time opens the courts’ own administrative records to public scrutiny; presented training in an instructional workshop for government and other lawyers sponsored by the State Bar; begun to expand public attention to our work through increasing use of social media; and continued our own […]
Michael Nash, presiding judge of the juvenile division of the Los Angeles Superior Court, erred legally when he issued a blanket order opening dependency hearings to the press unless others involved in the case objected. So concluded the Second District Court of Appeal in its tentative ruling made public today. As noted here, Judge Nash’s order went into effect almost two years ago. But the Court of Appeal said that it turned state law on its head, creating a presumption of press access contrary to a provision of the Welfare and Institutions Code, which presumes closed dependency hearings unless a court makes an exception based on good cause shown and lack of harm to the child in the case. Today’s ruling, although formally labeled Tentative, is likely to be the last word on the issue unless the legislature were to amend the code, since the only party participating in further oral argument will be the juvenile appellant A. L., who began the litigation by objecting to a judge’s admission to his (or her) hearing of a Los Angeles Times reporter. A.L. did not name the Times as a real party in interest to the case, disabling it from arguing the correctness of Judge Nash’s order. The Court of Appeal did not foreclose judges from admitting reporters in future cases, but made it clear such exceptions to the rule would be extraordinary indeed. Consequently, the press must ultimately persuade the court that the balance of competing interests should be weighed in its favor – that is, there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests. This does not mean the child or party opposing access has no burden to produce […]
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an international mega-trade agreement under development among the U.S. and a number of key nations of the Americas and Asia, negotiated entirely in secret and proposed to bypass close Congressional scrutiny in a “Fast Track” approach. Leaks of certain draft versions suggest that all party states would see their domestic law controlled by TPP commitments and constraints in such disparate areas (apart from trade regulation) as “food safety, internet freedom, medicine costs, financial regulation, and the environment,” as listed on Public Citizen’s opposition website. The site also notes that the terms have been worked out through “a secret trade negotiation that has included over 600 official corporate ‘trade advisors’ while hiding the text from Members of Congress, governors, state legislators, the press, civil society, and the public.” TPP’s current status worries a Forbes contributor because even the Fast Track process may not lead to Congressional buy-in before 2015—an election year when play-it-safe political instincts will rule, while TPP’s threats to American public interests are spelled out by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which provides a quick form for opposition statements to be sent to California’s Senators and Members of Congress.
The niceties of real property law were the essentially exclusive focus of justices’ attention yesterday as the U. S. Supreme Court considered the lawfulness of an arrest of a protester near but outside the main gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base on the Pacific Coast Highway. The protester’s lawyer, UC Irvine Law School Dean and leading First Amendment scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, outlined the free speech issues in the case in a law journal Tuesday. But, as noted by Court observer Lyle Denniston in SCOTUSblog, Chemerinsky’s arguments were given short shrift by the justices, who appeared far more interested in the intricacies of easement law, and appeared disposed to rule—at least for the majority—that although the Air Force as owner of the base virtually all the way to the beach, had given the State of California an easement for travel over Highway 1, it retained the right to control speech in that zone in the interests of national security. Cases such as this are examples of what Californians Aware means, in its mission statement, by its reference to “the trends to be overcome,” including “Eroding opportunity: Dwindling space or time for expected and protected speech.”
by Warner Chabot This November, the California Coastal Commission listened to advice from Californians Aware and backed down on a controversial proposal to micromanage their senior staff. The twelve-member commission, appointed by state administration and legislative leaders, acts as a land use “planning commission” for the coastal zone of California. In the interest of “accountability” and “transparency,” the commission has been debating how their Executive Director should produce metrics and performance updates to demonstrate progress on implementing the Commission’s recently adopted Strategic Plan. The question was the level of detail (metrics) to require for these updates. The problem, in the eyes of many past Commissioners and NGO leaders, was that some commissioners were seeking a level of metrics that would constitute excessive micromanagement of staff. The Commission took an hour of public testimony before deliberating for another hour on the subject. The public testimony was unanimous in its praise of the staff’s professionalism and transparency and in expressing a concern that the commission should not attempt to micromanage the staff. They commissioners concluded by adopting the recommendation of their Executive Director for a “dashboard” reporting system that would be used in his monthly reports. Among the materials presented to the Commission was a letter from Californians Aware, which praised the Commission staff’s accountability and transparency based on several audits over a multi-year period. Outcome: Unanimous vote to approve the “dashboard” system proposed by the Executive Director to report on Strategic Plan progress. The Commission reaffirmed their respect for staff independence and professionalism. They rejected an option to require an excessive level of time-consuming monitoring and reporting that would have diverted staff from its core work. For More information: This issue generated major interest among past […]