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My Sunday Column: Outcry preserves the right to know for now — but it will take a lot more to restore democracy in California

Journalists, the good government crowd, even some ordinary people who believe in democracy, felt triumphant last week when the farce in Sacramento over what they called the “gutting … neutering … eviscerating” of California’s freedom of information law ended the way they had hoped.

A victory for open government, for freedom, they said, proof that the politicians will respond to the public if people get aroused enough.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature controlled by Democratic super-majorities that allow them to do anything they want with barely whimpers from the Republicans had backed down on making the state’s public access law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, optional at the discretion of each and every government agency.

In a word, they had wanted to make public access meaningless, but lost their nerve when they saw the public reaction might bring down their whole house of cards.

Still, the delight taken in seeing the all-powerful slinking away in humiliation was largely misplaced.

When it comes to open and transparent government, California is as bad as it gets, ranking 49th in the nation with only frigid North Dakota more disrespectful of the public’s right to know.

Just two months ago, the nonpartisan U.S. Public Interest Research Group reported that, under Brown’s leadership, California had fallen from 43rd place with a “D- grade” to become one of only five “F States” that have “limited and hard to use” websites, fail to provide information on the “public benefits of economic development” by recipient or make their “tax expenditure report available.”

California was only “one of two states in the country without searchable vendor-specific spending information.”

The assault on the public’s right to know by the governor and his pals comes at the very moment when we are learning the federal government is using a million people with security clearances like Pvt. Bradley Manning and high school dropout Edward Snowden to track our phone and Internet activity, even sending up surveillance drones to keep an eye on some of us in case the video cameras everywhere in public places and private businesses miss something.

The governor justified his Brown Act attack in his budget message in January as a way to save money since the state is supposed to foot the bill for all compliance costs.

Few took his proposal seriously until 10 days ago week when the Democrats in the Senate and Assembly attached riders to the budget trailer bills to gut, neuter or eviscerate the Brown Act.

How much would be saved — if anyone believes costs had anything to do with eliminating the public’s ability to know what their leaders are up to — was anybody’s guess.

It’s not like the Brown Act actually works very well as it is. Agencies are supposed to respond promptly to a request but rarely do so, often stalling for many months. They throw up a thousand excuses or dare requesters to sue by denying them outright.

What Senate Bill 71 and Assembly Bill 76 — the trailer bills supported by local legislators Carol Liu and Mike Gatto — sought to do was eliminate the requirements for officials to help requesters define what they want, to provide electronic records in the format they want, to respond within 10 days or justify a delay of 14 days and to specify in writing legal reasons for withholding information.

They could even annually declare they were opting out of the Brown Act altogether.

When both branches of the Legislature voted on party lines to push this forward on June 14, the uproar was furious.

Demands for Brown to veto his own proposal came from every direction — public interest groups that specialize in freedom-of-information issues, victims groups, prosecutors like L.A. County District Atty. Jackie Lacey, newspaper publishers, bloggers.

As the firestorm grew, Brown remained adamant even as he started double-talking about how “Californians have a right to know and should continue to have prompt access to public records.” Presumably, he meant unless officials don’t want them to.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg blubbered in a talking points memo about how the “Public Records Act has not been gutted because I would not support such a measure,” even as he insisted the Brown Act provision would remain.

And then an unlikely hero emerged.

Assembly Speaker John Perez — a hardball politician with a record of contempt for the public knowing anything about what the Assembly does — announced late Wednesday that AB76 would be reconsidered, including the Brown Act provisions.

“A lot of folks are waking up on this issue, and there is a hue and cry about it, and we want to be responsive to that,” said his right-hand man, budget Chairman Bob Blumenfield, who will resign next week to become an L.A. City Councilman at twice the pay.

After the Assembly voted to eliminate the Brown Act element from the trailer bill, Brown and Steinberg surrendered, but vowed to fight, mumbling about putting a constitutional amendment before voters to ratify the action they had wanted to take.

No, this wasn’t a victory for freedom or open government, merely a skirmish in what has been a long losing war. But it showed how democracy could be restored if enough of us cared and stood our ground together.

(THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED ONLINE AND IN PRINT FOR SUNDAY JUNE 23 IN THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

 

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47 Responses to My Sunday Column: Outcry preserves the right to know for now — but it will take a lot more to restore democracy in California

  1. lucky lady says:

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  2. Morrison says:

    Ron – Before this goes to print, the Legislature was gutting the Public Records Act this week. Not the Brown Act. (Their prior efforts to undermine the Brown Act failed previously).

    • Enquiring Minds Need to Know says:

      Yes, you’re right. I guess that Ron is so anti-Jerry Brown that he’s got “Brown” on the brain. Ron meant Government Code 6250 et seq., Public Records Act, and not Government Code, 54950 – 54963, which is called The Ralph. M Brown Act and sets forth the open meetings rules applicable governments like cities, standing committees, neighborhood councils.

      The CPRA (Gov’t Code 6250) requires governmental agencies to provide information to the public. It is the State’s counterpart to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

      Govt Code 6250 requires the governmental agencies, like the defunct CRA, to provided written records which councilmen like Eric Garcetti would prefer to keep secret.

      By using “6250,” the public uncovered the Appraisal Fraud on Garcetti’s project at 1601 N Vine. The CRA had its own appraisal showing that the land was worth only $4 million, but Garcetti’s friends, Hall Katersky and Steve Ullman, had obtained another appraisal showing that the land was worth $5.4 Million. When Garcetti urged the City (CRA/LA) to buy the land for the higher $5.4 M, he never told the other councilmembers or the public that the City was paying $1.4 Million more than the CRA’s appraisal.

      Garcetti was under a legal duty to disclose the lower CRA Appraisal of $4 M, but he did not. This conduct is called Fraud by Omission. A few years later, a 6250 request was made to the CRA/LA for the documents on 1601 N Vine, but someone had removed the CRA $4 Million appraisal from the files before producing them for review but they included the higher $5.4 M appraisal. However, when a member of the public was at the CRA, one staff member said, “Here, I know you asked for this.” He unlocked a cabinet which had the CRA $4 M appraisal and gave it to the requester.

      Without the existence of 6250, the public would not have found out that it had been swindled out of $1.4 Million. Garcetti, however, then had the city sell back this same piece of land to the developer for only $835,000.00. Thus, the city paid the developer $5.4 M and then sold it back for only $835,000.00. And, people wonder why the city went broke while Garcetti was Council President.

      Yes, some corrupt person had illegally withheld the lower CRA $4 Million appraisal from the documents produced in response to the 6250 Request. Without the law that allowed us to officially seek the document, however, that honest gentleman at CRA would not have given us the incriminating evidence of fraud.

      Thus, you can see that the motive to kill 6250 is not to save the few dollars that it takes to respond to the requests, but instead to conceal criminal wrongdoing by our officials.

      When the State killed the CRA’s effective 2-1-2012, Sacramento pointed to the appraisal frauds at Garcetti’s 1601 N Vine project as a prime example why all the CRA’s had to be abolished — there was more corruption that the State could financially bear.

      Remember that Garcetti’s pride and joy, the Hollywood Highland project, lost almost $1/2 BILLION. Just as the State cannot afford to have CRA’s, the State cannot afford NOT to have 6250.

  3. JEAN FLEMING says:

    Ron as usual you hit the nail on the head

  4. Teddy says:

    Where are California values? Are we voters fools or are we also
    dishonest?

  5. I Will Ban plastic bags and make you all pay for paper bags!! Next I’ll raise your property taxes once we get prop 13 gutted with my misinformation campaign of “We will never raise YOUR homeowner property taxes.” But in reality, renters will pay more because we will eliminate prop 13 for MULTI-FAMILY RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIALLY ZONED PROPERTY! Then we will “Manhattanize” Hollywood and drive out small businesses with our gigantic development. Then we will go to other cities like Vernon and TAKE THEM OVER AND MAKE THEM PART OF L.A. CITY!!!
    Again, thank you Valley FOOLS and MENTALLY FEEBLE FOOLS for giving me a 50% pay raise for the next 12 years. Me, my black wife (yes, I married a black woman to raise my political fortunes) and my multiracial kids, and my other elderly family all on SSI, Medical, and EBT wish to thank you schmucks for NOT electing a person who could advance such “childish” things like lower taxes, enforcing zoning restrictions, lowering DWP bills, and reigning in corruption Downtown. YOU LOVE ME, CORRUPTION, AND HIGHER AND HIGHER AND HIGHER TAXES…AND I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU ALL YOU CAN HANDLE! THANKS AGAIN CD-3!

  6. My campaign donors years ago told me to marry a black woman (or man if I were inclined to go that way.) I’m a Liberal—I want 30 million instant citizens and then open the border up and let another 30 million in a few more years so 90% vote for the Democratic Party; I want much higher property, sales, and income taxes; I believe cars are evil and I want gas to be $10 a gallon; I love driving businesses offshore and out of state; I love handing out EBT cards and SSI; and I love homeless people and believe they should be able to do whatever they want; and most of all, I love releasing all the felons into the Valley to commit more crimes so I feel better at night that I gave them a “second chance”; and I love legalizing drugs so you all medicate yourselves as I steal America right out from under your noses!
    Look at the Food Channel woman who admitted she was fond of slavery and liked black men in white suits serving food to white people. She got fired. I married a black woman and had kids—and now I get 12 years of being paid $180,000 a year PLUS freebees for selling out the Valley! WHAT A DEAL!

    • Rita-of-Sunland says:

      “Councilman Blumenfeld”—Why do I get the distinct impression that you are actually Wayne Spindler aka “Wayne-from-Encino?” Nevertheless, what you say ’bout ol’ Bob is TRUE. Sorry if I blew yer cover!

  7. Teddy says:

    I agree. Thank you Rita.

  8. anonymous says:

    And it does not hurt Westfield to have A. Swiller as their lobbyist………….ABF.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Only an idiot will accept that the most corrupt Mayor in LA’s history did not walk away with a bundle. Someone paid for his expensive tastes the past 8 years that it was claimed in LA Weekly that he needs $750,000 a year to maintain the lifestyle he is accustomed to. Who said public service was not a road to riches, in LA anyway.

    • anonymous says:

      V’s comment about a possible campaign for Governor
      was very shrewd…just imagine all the “campaign funds”
      that will be created for contributions from supporters…
      V for Governor…
      V the Visionary…
      V the People’s Choice
      V the California Dream…you get the idea…
      money will be no problem for the low-life…

  10. anonymous says:

    Oh, Ron…”to restore democracy in California”…Democracy ?
    We still remember those “neighborhood council leaders” who,
    in all earnestness, during Kerkorian’s NC workshop, proposed
    the Brown Act should not apply to NCs because the Brown Act
    was “too cumbersome, complex and problematic…” !
    Just imagine…we should trust such “leaders”…? Never !

  11. City Council Man Elect Robert "2 Job Bob" Blumenfeld says:

    Re: Rita: Nope, I’m the real deal. After all, I’m a communist, while the other guy you mention is a pro-capitalist, anti-property tax maverick! I can’t stand that guy! I love the City’s ban on plastic bags (except for WIC recipients who are exempted.) Now, the stores get 10 cents for RECYCLIBLE PAPER BAGS (which I’m sure one of my major campaign donors makes) and get to pocket that $$$$ so long as they all file “quarterly reports” with the City! Of course, we’ll have the paper bags sell ADVERTISEMENTS on them (to rake in more $$$ for my campaign coffer.) Soon, L.A. will be controlled by 80′s style Soviets and we’ll drive all the Wayne from Encinos to hell out of my KINGDOM!!! Hail Lenin!!! (Opps, I’m getting a wee bit ahead of myself—the lobbyists brought in the good booze tonight and I’m getting hammered.) So you all July 1rst!

  12. City Council Man Elect Robert "2 Job Bob" Blumenfeld says:

    The Communist takeover of America continued today: The Imperial U.S. Senate moved forward with it’s Immigration Bill entitled “Rape the U.S. Citizen Workers and Rip Off the Taxpayer’s Immigration Reform Bill of 2013″ Or (RUCWAROTIRB) which will add 20 t0 35 million New job seekers to the already screwed employment market and fill all the major cities with more welfare recipients. Also the U.S. Supreme-Soviet Court today legalized Gays filing for tons more free stuff as “married” and now California can overturn prop 13 and prop 208 by simply gutting it AND NOT SUPPORTING THE CHALLENGE OF IT IN COURT! Yes, finally, the U.S. is getting back at all those bad and greedy old people who use to harass me as a kid and tell me I was a Communist and a fool. We’ll now THE CHICKENS HAVE COME HOME TO ROOST!!!

    • ex valley says:

      You in LA are definitely getting what you deserve. You keep voting for all these politicos that promote sanctuary city and similar policies. And they in turn will pass this “comprehensive” immigration reform that will add hundreds of thousands if not millions to welfare rolls and various other benefits that the city and state will be on the hook to provide.
      But you are too clueless to understand any of this.

  13. City Council Man Elect Robert "2 Job Bob" Blumenfeld says:

    Good news: We got 15 Republicans to sell out their party, families, voters, and America today and we got 68 votes for the New Amnesty Law!!! Wooppiee!! Now, we’ll have to work really hard to bride, threaten, blackmail, and abuse the House Republicans so we can get them to sell out too and get this bill passed! Too bad there’s no Republican Congressman nearby to harass, because I’d be hiring lots of P.I.s and having them trailed 24/7 so I could blackmail them into voting for the Bill (like we did on Obama care–but those guys were Democrats.)
    Bad news however—Texas can require I.D. to vote and they can draw Congressional Districts based on real data, and not lies, bribes, payoffs, and trade-offs. Damn Texas!!!
    Damn Them!!

    • scott zwartz says:

      California’s History:
      Spanish exploration era 1542 to 1769 227 years
      Spanish Colonial era 1769 to 1821 52 years
      Mexican era 1821 to 1848 27 years
      ————————————————————–
      Total Pre USA era 306 years
      American era 1848-2013 165 years

      Who do you think founded Los Angeles? Michelle Bachmann?
      (and that’s leaving out the 12,000 + Native American years)

      • The years are meaningless. Who do you think made something out of Southern California? It was not the government of Mexico, the same government that cannot provide adequate services to its citizens and has fostered a culture of poverty and illiteracy. The best government Mexico had was during the relatively brief occupation by US forces following the Mexican War. Mexico is screaming about the enhanced border security in the bill, but its citizens should be blaming their own officials for running down a nation with decent resources, bi-coastal ports and some of the best coastline in the world.

        • scott zwartz says:

          You excel at missing the point and inventing straw men so you can project your prejudices onto them.

          There are historic, geographic and economic reasons many Mexicans (and other Spanish speaking workers from Central America) struggle to come here. I merely pointed out our Spanish & Mexican origins.

          Mexico is poorly run. Its prototype for a government are two authoritarian regimes: (1) The Catholic Church and (3) The monarchy. In both systems, all power rests at the top, and in those types of institutions, the only way to get something out of the government is bribery. Naturally, those at the top want to hold on to all the power making peaceful reform very difficult.

          With virtually no expectation that the corruption will end, Mexicans from the lower classes naturally come to America. Our formal laws say, “Stay away,” but our actions say, “Come on up.” They come to the US, because we lure them with money.

          We are a nation of hypocrites. Do you refuse to eat in restaurants with illegal busboys? Do you refuse to shop in stores where the cleaning crews employe illegals? Do you check the immigration papers of all the guys who work on your car at Pep Bopys? No. You take the advantages of the illegals’ labor every day.

          I have no doubt that if restaurants and stores had no illegal workers, you would have a fit over the increased prices and deteriorating service. No, you will continue to take the benefits of the illegals every day, while crying like a baby every night about the terrible illegals.

          We need a rational way to handle the trouble which Mexico’s corruption causes us. It is a law of economics that a population willing to work will be drawn to a location where there are jobs for them. It is a law of economics that businessmen who cannot find decent workers in their own area will pay good workers to come from other areas. There are two ways to break the cycle:

          (1) Destroy the US economy. Balancing the budget would do the trick. Then no one would want to come here. This strikes me as bad idea.

          (2) Change Mexico into a meritocracy. I do not see that happening. Not only does the aristocracy have no intention of giving up anything, the the lower class lacks the cultural background to institute a market based economy based on law and not corruption.

          This brings us to a point I started making back in the mid 1960′s. We need to Americanize the Mexican children, just like the public schools and the private organizations Americanized the Jews and the Italians and the Irish. After a while, the signs “No dogs and Irish not wanted” began to disappear, but it took time for the Irish to acculturate to America.

          We need to concentrate on Americanizing all the immigrant children in the ways that a commercial, technological, information-based society operates. The children need to know that initiative is good; always waiting for the top authority figure to tell you what to do is not good. Is there any captain of industry whose school teachers praise as such a “good little boy”? It is difficult to draw the line between independent and dangerously rebellious. But it is important that students be educated into the behavior patterns which make a modern society function.

          Bilingual education was a horrible idea which only retarded English language skills. In the 19780′s we did a lot of very harmful nonsense which kept Mexicans from mastering vital skills.

          Now is the time to face reality. We need Mexicans and they need us. Since we run the institutions north of the border, it is our responsibility to run them so that our society benefits. We have done a horrible, miserable job, especially with the LAUSD.

          We need to stop Mexican bashing and fix the problems which we have created.

          • Mexico’s autocratic rulers and the influence of the Catholic Church are not our problems. If Arabs can rise up against autocrats in the Middle East, Mexicans should be able to wage political war on its ruling class.

            Do we need labor from Mexico and elsewhere? Yes, but that can be accomplished through a regulated guest worker program. It would include holding employers responsible for due diligence on hiring and strict adherence to labor laws. That would be easier than immigration overhaul and reduce the social costs we incur today from illegal immigration.

          • anonymous says:

            beware…
            those who speak lies…
            disguised as truths…

      • anonymous says:

        ah, yes, we remember…
        the Spanish Inquisition was marvelous…
        now, if Mexico could only recapture the glory…

      • ex valley says:

        Blah blah blah. Typical Bs from a typical la white guilt ridden democrap. I do hope the immigration “reform” becomes reality and your city and state drown with millions new welfare recipients demanding all sorts of free goodies.

      • ex valley says:

        You always bring up Michelle Backmann. Why is that Scott? Got hots for her Nordic type?

        By the way, Michelle Backmann has a law degree from William and Mary (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michele_Bachmann)

        What is your educational level, Scott ? A Chicano major? People’s school of law, like Villar ?

  14. City Council Man Elect Robert "2 Job Bob" Blumenfeld re: Swartz foolish history of CA. says:

    California’s History (the correct version):
    Chinese exploration of California 300 B.C. to 700 A.D.
    Native American settlement era 700 A.D. to 1542 A.D.
    Spanish exploration era 1542 to 1769 227 years
    Spanish Colonial era 1769 to 1821 52 years
    Mexican era 1821 to 1848 27 years
    U.S. Calvery Kicks Asses of Mexicans out of California: 1848 (took 1 day)
    U.S. Builds Railroads, Cities, and Water supply for California era 1848 to 1972
    California turns into Shithole with election of Bradley in L.A. and Brown in Sacramento
    era: 1970-1982
    California gets its brains out of Its Ass and elects Republicans Again Era 1982-1988.
    California votes Liberal and completely turns into Shithole: 1988-2013.

    ————————————————————–
    Total Pre USA era 2,313years
    American era 1848-2013 165 years
    And some trivia questions:
    Who do you think founded Los Angeles? Answer: El Rancho de Los Encinos founders and Catholic Missionaries with the 1rst being Mission de San Fernando.
    Michelle Bachmann? She applied for Swiss Citizenship papers for herself, kids, and spouse. Thus, SHE’S A GENIUS (and not a scumbag Democrat like myself.)
    (And that’s leaving out the 12,000 + Native American years—no argument there–God Bless the Native American Tribes and their history.)

  15. Anonymous says:

    The worst Mayor in LA’s history is finally out & the LA Times can’t give him enough praise. WHY, WHY WHY? Ron at least enlighten us on this. How does LA Times benefit from this? Will latinos start buying this crap paper. Is that the reason? Other than this I’m befuddled.

  16. City Council Man Elect Robert "2 Job Bob" Blumenfeld says:

    I begin earning my six figure gift salary and all those other gifts starting Monday!! As for all this talk about having California being given back to Mexico, I’d fully support that! I like that idea, because then I’d be a Mexican Citizen and could own property in the interior or anywhere and I’d really cash in on converting my bucks to pesos! I speak a few words of Spanish too—-”Mi puto esta in su boca” and “Quiero mi cabeza en tu culo” are a few phrases I picked up in my College Spanish course. Oh…These phrases translate into “My heart is in your hand” and “I would like my head in the beautiful clouds.” Aren’t those nice sayings. Jeez, Mexico is so wonderful, why I could just open up that pesky border and just let them all in tomorrow, know what I mean?

    • scott zwartz says:

      “Your homosexual whore is in his mouth.” Really? Either your Spanish sucks or you really are a jerk-off, or both.

      I’d rather have a lot more of la gente bonita than another bigot like you.

      • Rita-of-Sunland says:

        Personally I’d rather be called a bigot than be the type of hysterical “progressive” who’s so easily swayed into siding with law-breakers by La Raza’s propaganda machine.

  17. anonymous says:

    Hey Ron,
    I have a request. Given the new folks that will be taking over City Hall, do you think a post on “who they should not hire” is in order? I can think of a few individuals that should pack it up. You know, once they are hired, it’s impossible to fire. Better that we issue warnings to the unknowing newbies doncha think?

    • scott zwartz says:

      Great idea!

      • Anonymous says:

        This should be easy. Anyone hired by Antonio should be tossed out. They are as worthless as him.

        • anonymous says:

          Oh, please, please, Mayor Garcetti…
          an appointment change as soon as possible…
          LAPD Chief Charlie Beck…his selfish ambition
          neither protects nor serves the law-abiding public…
          the “worked numbers” for crime are fairy tales…
          we know better…and so do you…

  18. Teddy says:

    Well, friends, cynical??? Tomorrow a new mayor. A new day as well?
    We shall see. My fingers are crossed that promises will be kept and changes
    will be made.

  19. City Council Man Elect Robert "2 Job Bob" Blumenfeld says:

    I just finished taking my oath of office. Now I’m going to get my drunk on with the campaign donors, consultants, and lobbyists up in Malibu tonite (my real constituents.) Then I’m going to bathe for 3 or 4 days straight and visit that craphole Reseda field office I’ve inherited from Zine and see if I can get some homeless people to work there (because no one will work there that has any decent references.)

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