- Published on Tuesday, 01 July 2003 20:54
- Written by Dave Snow
July 4 isn't the only celebration of freedom this week. Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1953 Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires public bodies - such as city councils, county boards, city commissions, school boards and special districts - to post agendas at least 72 hours in advance before meeting.
The law basically shut the door on closed meetings and secret decisions by opening the door to the public for comment and participation.
Under the act, all regular meetings must be posted and open to the public. Mandating public notice for meetings came after one California city council voted themselves a pay raise without the public's knowledge.
Gov. Gray Davis considered changing the law during this year's budget crisis in order to save $9 million in payments to local governments for processing public meetings.
The change could could have meant more than a loss of notification.
The law holds public officials accountable and enables residents to participate in the decision-making process. Davis' proposal would essentially strip away the public's right to be informed and to speak up about public decisions.
Consider what might happen in Los Altos without the law: A movie theater at First and Main streets could have been decided over a latte at Starbucks; neighbors might not have known about the planned swimming pool complex at Rosita Park until the first hole was dug; and Bullis-Purissima School might have been bulldozed without the public's prior knowledge.
Given these scenarios, it's no surprise the reaction that some downtown merchants displayed at last week's Los Altos Council meeting regarding a parking permit plan that the council allegedly approved without their knowledge.
Merchants stormed city hall and demanded the council withhold a new permit plan until they had their say. Apparently, the city had used the county tax roll, that excluded most merchants, to notify building owners of a meeting about parking changes.
The council has added the parking issue to next week's agenda and will reconsider its decision pending merchant comments.
If Davis allows local governments to close their doors, our freedom and ability to protect ourselves from those sworn to serve us might be jeopardized.