New Year’s Eve is the last day to make a tax deductible contribution to Californians Aware for 2018, and that support can tide us over while we seek more substantial grant funding.
Going into the new year, here’s a quick update on our activities and aspirations.
Our services continue to range from daily phone and email consultations to help people understand and use their open government rights and First Amendment liberties, to protracted litigation to enforce open government laws. The latest pair of lawsuits challenge Brown Act violations by the Bakersfield City Council and the board of Metrolink, the Los Angeles area transportation agency. Both are being called out for using closed sessions unlawfully to discuss public issues, namely a needed ballot campaign to authorize new taxes and fixing an engine design flaw that had led to a serious train accident, respectively.
As the new legislative session opens, we’ve presented an influential lawmaker—at his invitation—with ideas and even language for greatly trimming back two frustrating exemptions from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. One is the provision allowing the withholding of information based solely on some (often unidentified) overriding “public interest . . . in not disclosing the record.” The other is the “deliberative process privilege” increasingly cited by state and local government agencies to keep the public in the dark about how a controversial policy was developed—and who originated and influenced it.
Other initiatives we hope to launch as soon as resources permit are focused efforts to train and inform people in four distinct sectors in the state that have specials needs for legal support and protection.
- Communities Lacking Consistent Media Coverage California has more than its share of “news deserts” where dwindling coverage of local issues due to newspaper closures and mergers is increasing. Of special concern is the finding of an August 2018 study from Duke University that “the greater the proportion of a community’s population that is Hispanic/Latino, the less robust is the journalism in that community.”
- Nonprofit Online Local News Publishers California has scores of online local or state news sites, and while a handful cover major metropolitan areas, most do not. They cannot afford a staff attorney or even occasional counseling by a media law specialist. And yet they are faced with the same legal risks, obstacles and resistance as those working for private enterprise.
- Residents of Homeowners’ Associations In 2008 the condominium industry estimated that about a third of California’s population lived in the state’s 45,000 common interest developments—private residential communities governed by homeowner associations. That number is now more than 52,000. The HOA boards are not subject to the state’s open meeting or public records laws, but instead have their own legal requirements to open their meetings and administrative records to residents.
- High School Student Advocates and Journalists California’s Education Code provides several statutes governing high school student speech and journalism that are more protective of expression than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But neither the state nor most school districts provide training in these laws.
CalAware begins 2019 with a new President, Bob Stern, and a new Executive Director, Emelyn Rodriguez. Bob was a co-founder of the Fair Political Practices Commission, and Emelyn served 13 years as the Commission’s senior counsel.
Please support our work and plans with a contribution, either online or by mail to CalAware, 2218 Homewood Way, Carmichael CA 95608. If the tax deduction is not a high priority for you at the moment, rest assured that a year-end gift is a very important bridge to viability for us these days. I hope this busy season has found you you healthy and in good spirits—and not too distracted by deadlines and headlines!