passing the batonCalifornians Aware, the nonprofit organization fighting for your rights to open government, free speech and protected reporting, needs your help as never before.

After our first dozen years working in the courts and the Legislature, we need to fund a full-time executive director and a modest administrative office, relieving me to concentrate on picking battles and continuing to help those in need of individual attention. I would continue receiving a consultation fee, established last March, of $500, but we estimate total costs of this shift to be more than $100,000.

Please contribute generously to help us realize this transition, and thank you in advance for doing so!

You can make your gift here or send your check to Californians Aware, 2218 Homewood Way, Carmichael, CA 95608.

This past year has seen several advances in open government/public information law that we can take some credit for:

  • Transparency in the Legislature

Most significant was our early consultation on and endorsement of what became Proposition 54, approved by an overwhelming majority of the electorate earlier this month. As of January 1 the California Legislature must abandon its prior practice of last minute gut-and-amend tactics, instead posting all bills on the Internet for 72 hours before a final vote in either house. And even earlier in the process, Proposition 54 will require the Legislature to audiovisually record every committee hearing or floor session, post the recordings on the Internet within 24 hours, and store downloadable copies of the footage on a publicly-accessible database for at least 20 years. Finally, those present to observe such proceedings can record them on their own devices and republish the product as they please.

  • Accessible Police Dashcam Videos

Second most significant is the decision of the First District Court of Appeal in City of Eureka v. Superior Court, holding that a police department’s dashcam video recording of an arrest was not a confidential peace officer personnel record and therefore was available for public disclosure. This decision, let stand as citable case law by the California Supreme Court, undermines the frequently heard argument from officer unions—so far not tested in court— that bodycam recordings are exempt from disclosure as confidential peace officer personnel records. The issue was originally taken to court by a reporter for the North County Journal in Eureka, after consulting with me and being encouraged to contact Davis public records law specialist Paul Boylan, who represented him at all three levels of court proceedings.

  • Reports on Local Government Executive Raises

Third in significance was our principal support for SB 1436 by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Hills), an amendment to the Ralph M. Brown Act requiring local government bodies, prior to voting in open session to approve new pay or benefit levels for their agency’s executives, to “orally report a summary of (the) recommendation” for the increase. The measure, effective January 1, was explained by the author as encouraging “the active discussion of the compensation of local agency executives in an open session, rather than simply placing an item on a consent calendar where it will receive little attention.” We not only supported SB 1436 but persuaded Bates to add language preserving “the public’s right to inspect or copy records created or received in the process of developing the recommendation.” Accordingly, those interested should be able to get copies of written exchanges between the executive and the agency’s bargaining agent showing how the proposed compensation improvement (or initial compensation package) evolved in negotiation.

  • Open Lobbying Signatures by L.A. Supervisors

Last but hardly least is our litigation prompting the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors to abandon its practice of secretly signing all members’ names to letters sent to the Legislature and/or Governor expressing support for or opposition to particular bills. Instead, any lobbying letters signed by at least a majority of the Board will henceforth be described on its meeting agenda and approved by public vote. The new policy adopted in August results from a lawsuit filed last year by Kelly Aviles, CalAware’s Vice President for Open Government Compliance, alleging a violation of the Brown Act when all five Supervisors affixed their signature to letters sent to Sacramento opposing, AB 194. Ironically that bill, co-sponsored by CalAware but vetoed by Governor Brown, would have improved protection for citizens’ ability to address local government bodies at their meetings. CalAware went to court only when the Board rejected its demand to publicly renounce the practice of discussing or acting on legislative issues outside of open and public meetings.