Did the Planning Commission Violate the Brown Act?

Courtesy of Four ProvincesAs we reported on last week’s meeting of the Planning Commission, a tour of several areas of Tustin Legacy was made by the commissioners and some staff prior to the regular meeting. When the regular meeting of the planning commission convened, the tour was discussed briefly in general terms of how informative it was for commission members.

What was not mentioned was whether any business of the Commission was discussed. And, this is important because, whenever a majority of members of a local, publicly appointed or elected body convene for pretty much any reason, the meeting must be open to the public and the public must have an opportunity to be heard. This is true, even if no vote or action is taken. Now, you may be thinking, “It was a tour. What would they discuss?” They might be discussing their kid’s soccer game or school activities. But, what if they discussed zoning issues that might be coming up later that night? Or, what if they, as a group, decided Tustin Legacy should have different population densities than already approved?  What if they had discussed,  in camera, the entertainment permit for your restaurant? If these discussions, (with few exceptions) were held out of public view, our government might act very different toward the public. And, it is why we have open meeting laws.

Government Code 54950 to 54962, otherwise known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, governs meetings for local governments and local public agencies. Recently, Santa Ana was chastised for their failure to insure public access to their meetings. The Tustin City Council has policies in place to make sure the public’s concerns are heard for any matter in the council’s purview. We would like to think that city staff would insure city commissions are properly run as well.

The Planning Commission did notice the tour on the regular agenda published on the website. However, there was no accompanying agenda for the tour itself. We were not sure what mode of transportation the Commission used or if the public was invited to the tour. If they had been, would everyone have traveled together? Were there any reports or  writeups given to the tour group? We don’t know because the public was only told in an offhand manner that the tour would be conducted. This is not the first time I have discussed open meetings with the Planning Commission. Recently, they held a workshop in which issues pertaining to Old Town were discussed. There was apparently no video produced and it was weeks before minutes were placed on the city’s website. Fortunately, the city’s Public Information Officer, Lisa Woolery, previously assured me that minutes had been produced and would be available.

So, right after this tour occurred, I submitted a Public Information Request. Community Sevices Director, Elizabeth Binsack, called me on Friday to discuss the request. Essentially, she told me that the tour was noticed as required and it was open to the public. The Participants did, in fact, take a tour bus to the area. Accompanying the Commissioners on the tour were several city staff from Elizabeth’s department including, Dana Ogdon- Assistant Community Development Director, Justina Willkom-Principal Planner, Scott Reekstin- Senior Planner, David Kendig- City Attorney and Alex Rojas – TUSD — Assistant Superintendent. Knowing the rift between the city and the school district, Alex is a braver man than I. Elizabeth also advised:

As I indicated, we usually do one or two tours a year.  We will accommodate as many as we can on the bus.  It is on a first come first serve request.  This is why we place the approximate times for the designations on the Agenda so if those that cannot make it on the bus, want to follow or only want to go to a certain designation can do so.

I was also invited on the next tour which, according to Binsack, occure once or twice a year.

The agenda she provided was substantially different than the one that was posted on the city website and did, indeed, post the approximate times of all the stops. That was a cause for concern as I told our Community Development Director that there was no indication that the tour was public from the notice posted on the website. She agreed to look into it. In the packet of information she sent to me, there was a separate notice and agenda for the tour, a key factor in determining Brown Act violations. The agenda report provided to me consisted of a couple dozen photos, presumably of toured areas, and a recommendation to receive and file the report.

So, did a Brown Act violation occur? There were no separate minutes and a recording secretary did not attend the tour. However, it was plain from the material provided and the discussion Binsack and I had, that the tour was, indeed, open to the public on a first come first served basis on the tour bus. So, maybe some technical violation may have occured. We’ll leave it at that, for now, and see if they take our suggestions to heart.

Oh, and when I go on that next tour, I will be sure to bring my own caviar and water crackers. I wouldn’t want to be a burden on Tustin taxpayers.

About Jeff Gallagher

I am a retired peace officer from the 2nd largest law enforcement agency in Orange County. I live in and love Tustin where my family and I have resided for the past 25 years. I am a highly moderate libertarian that despises hardcore Republicans, Democrats and anyone else who is not willing to compromise for the good of the people.

Posted on October 24, 2011, in Local Government, Politics, Tustin City Commissions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Did the Planning Commission Violate the Brown Act?.

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