What follows is an ultra-superficial overview of some state laws that apply to the PLTS sale and potential development. I apologize if this is common knowledge but in case it is not I’ve provided it.
Opening Meeting Laws
Someone last night during the meeting expressed concern that the city might meet in private and make decisions concerning the issues surrounding the sale of the PLTS. Was it Desmond? Anyway, the Brown Act, beginning at California Government Code section 54950, requires meetings of legislative bodies of local public agencies to be open and public. In fact, the California Constitution states “[t]he people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” (Cal. Const. art I, section 3(b)(2)).
As it relates to our issue, any board, commission, or council discussion of the PLTS site must be done in an open meeting. If not, the city officials are breaking the law.
There are limited exceptions to the open meeting law. In certain situations, the body may meet in a closed session, at which the public is not allowed. For our purposes the exception that could apply is if we threaten to sue. Many times people get excited and make this assertion when they sense the city is in opposition to their interests and that statement can be used to get into closed session. We do not want this to happen so we must resist saying anything like this. Merely retaining counsel is not enough to use this exception. The statement must serious enough for the city attorney to actually believe there is a threat of litigation on the basis of “existing facts and circumstances.”
Public Records Act
The Public Records Act (“PRA”), beginning at California Government Code section 6450, was enacted to provide access to information that enables the public to monitor the functioning of their government. The PRA favors disclosure, and a refusal to disclose information must be justified by the enumerated exemptions within the PRA. The courts have consistently held that any exemption must be narrowly construed.
Requests can be made orally or in writing, in person or by phone. But in my experience, even in Berkeley, staff does not know this and they usually ask for it in writing. That is not a big deal and I usually just go along with it and not argue. We need not, however, state the purpose for our request.
This is a useful tool for us. For instance, anyone can ask the city if there are any permit applications for 2750-2770 Marin. If so, they must disclose this to us and they generally have a 10-day response period.
Contributed by Michelin Jones