The Berkeley city attorney’s office’s draft Sunshine Ordinance—supposed to provide citizens with greater access to local government—has been scheduled for a public hearing at the Berkeley City Council on April 22 .
City Manager Phil Kamlarz has asked City Attorney Sarah Reynoso to provide him with a copy of the proposed ordinance by this week.
“I brought it back because it was time,” Kamlarz said. “It [the draft] has been on the website for people to see for a while now. Based on the input we have had so far, it’s time we did something. I want to take it to council for some kind of closure.”
The city has been trying to implement a Sunshine Ordinance since 2001, when at the request of Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the City Council asked Kamlarz and then-City Clerk Sherry Kelly to look into improving the city’s sunshine policies, including the adoption of a Sunshine Ordinance.
Kamlarz told the Planet last week that the city had made some improvements to public access of information since then, including providing live and archived videostreams of City Council, Redevelopment Agency, Berkeley Housing Authority and Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) meetings, and uploading entire packets of meeting reports, agendas and minutes on the city’s website.
“We have implemented bits and pieces from the draft ordinance over the last few years,” he said. “We are tweaking it a bit at this point to see how we can include all the suggestions and comments.”
Sunshine ordinances—which have been adopted by San Francisco, Oakland, Benicia and several other cities—require local agencies to make extra efforts to conduct public business in the open beyond the requirements of state law.
Berkeley’s proposed Sunshine Ordinance—drafted by former City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque—has been criticized in the past.
Councilmembers Worthington and Dona Spring have both complained that Albuquerque’s proposal was full of loopholes.
“We did not progress as a city with Manuela Albuquerque at the helm,” Spring told the Planet. “Now the question remains whether we are going to get a true Sunshine Ordinance. Will it be easier for the public and myself to get information from the city?” she asked.
A citizens’ group—comprised of representatives from the League of Women Voters, SuperBOLD (Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense) and other community members—has been meeting for almost a year to review Albuquerque’s 21-page draft ordinance.
“We want to take the good things in it and make it better,” said Dean Metzger, one of the group’s members and a former Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) commissioner. “The two most important things about the Sunshine Ordinance are public participation and open meetings. Right now, you are totally at the discretion of the ZAB chair or the mayor to allow you to speak. We don’t have any rules laid out for rebuttal. This makes it very difficult to have a real discussion.”
The group split into three smaller teams focused on separate issues: meetings, records and enforcement. Each group researched sunshine ordinances adopted by San Jose, San Francisco and Benicia, Metzger said.
Representatives from both San Francisco and Oakland told the group that the biggest problem was that these laws were not enforceable, he said.
“There’s no teeth in any of them,” Metzger said. “If you are a public official and you don’t follow the ordinance, there is no penalty. The only way you can get compliance is by taking the city to court. But how many people want to spend the time and the money to do that? We are trying to make the ordinance actually mean something.”
The citizen group is trying to get its own draft ordinance to the City Council to be considered along with the city manager’s proposal but wants more time to complete its work.
“We are about two-thirds of the way through,” Metzger said. “There are 27 people in the group. We meet twice a month but are trying to accelerate it to once a week to finish our draft. The controversial part is the enforcement of the sunshine ordinance itself. I can’t think of any city whose Sunshine Ordinance has enforcement. San Jose’s ordinance is probably better than most, because it calls for more open meetings.”
A few community members suggested establishing a committee to oversee the ordinance at a sunshine ordinance public workshop last year. Kamlarz responded that such a commission would not have any power unless the measure was put before voters as a charter amendment.
To view the city’s draft ordinance visit: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=5476
For more information on the citizens’ group send an email to : email@example.com