As reported by Abby Sewell on Wednesday in her Los Angeles Times blog post, the Los Angeles district attorney has asked the Board of Supervisors to revisit its August 11 vote approving an ambitious jail construction program to create two new facilities because, in violation of the Brown Act, that move was not included in the meeting’s posted agenda.
A Times editorial two days after the meeting addressed the episode with undisguised sarcasm.
Why does the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors even bother with agendas? Why post them, why even write them up, if the supervisors are simply going to ignore them and barge ahead with non-agendized business, approving costly and controversial projects such as new jail construction without public notice — without sufficient notice even to one another — and without serious analysis of the consequences?
Why bother? Except, of course, for the fact that notifying the public is their moral and fiscal obligation as elected representatives who are entrusted with power over billions of dollars and life-altering policy decisions. And except, by the way, for the fact that state law requires them to post agendas that give timely public notice of the questions before them and the actions they may take, well in advance of their meetings.
New jails were not on the board’s Tuesday agenda, but the supervisors nevertheless adopted a plan to spend more than $1 billion to build two of them. Will they be the right size? Who knows. The county will apparently get a jail with 3,885 beds, not because anyone decided that the size makes sense but because it’s halfway between proposals for a larger one and a smaller one, both of which also materialized during the meeting with no prior public notice.
One justification offered for the stealth vote is that the proper jail size depends on how many people could instead be diverted from jail to community-based mental health treatment — and there was indeed a mental health diversion plan on the agenda. That’s such a stretch that it stretches the definition of “stretch.”
New jails were not on the board’s Tuesday agenda, but the supervisors nevertheless adopted a plan to spend more than $1 billion to build two of them. –
Besides, the lengthy, multi-part mental health diversion plan was itself a last-minute add-on, not part of the regular agenda and instead published after business hours Friday, for no good reason except that staff didn’t get around to doing it in a more timely fashion. That kind of thing may be more legal than the jail vote, but it still betrays a contempt for the public.
Sound legal advice to the supervisors is supposed to come from the county counsel, but the board hasn’t replaced the counsel it dismissed this year. Enforcement is supposed to come from the district attorney, but Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey proposed the diversion program that the board adopted and that was supposedly hitched to the improper jail item, so she’s hardly likely to be the one leading a charge against the board’s law-skirting antics. That leaves the public few options for defending its rights to know of, and participate in, its own business.
The incident does not bode well for more open government at county headquarters, with a new board majority showing the same tone-deafness to transparency principles as their predecessors. Californians Aware sued the board two years ago for illegally holding several closed door discussions with Governor Brown concerning, ironically, the impact of state-released prison inmates on county jails, falsely labeling the topic as the security of public access to county facilities.
CalAware has now filed suit against the new board for acting to jointly sign a letter outside a public meeting, urging the Legislature to kill a bill that would have made it harder for local public bodies to interfere with citizens’ rights to address them in open meetings. The lawmakers passed the measure anyway, but the Governor, sharing the Board’s scorn for attempts to improve public involvement in decision-making, vetoed it.