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Group seeks sunnier city

Peter Sussman and Judith Scherr
Friday July 05, 2002

To the Editor: 

The city’s elected officials and staff members, as well as its commissions, boards and agencies, conduct the people’s business. The people do not cede to these individuals and entities the right to decide what their constituents should know about the operations of local government. 

That’s what the San Francisco Sunshine ordinance says. And the same goes for Berkeley. Government business is our business, and it invariably works better and more equitably when its operations are open to public view. 

Yet many of us – reporters, commissioners and other citizens – have been thwarted when we’ve tried to gather information from, and gain timely access to, the city government and school administration. The Berkeley Citizens Sunshine Coalition wants to know if you’re getting all the information you need to fulfill your role in government, or if your attempts to gain access have been stymied ... and if so, how. We invite your specific suggestions for better communication to and from government. We also want to know where Berkeley is doing a good job in keeping its citizens informed on and involved in the operations of government. 

So please fill out this questionnaire and return it to us at Berkeley Citizens Sunshine Coalition, 2887 College Ave. #338, Berkeley, CA 94705-2154; or e-mail your comments to our open "bulletin board" at B– or our more private mailbox at Read the comments at 

(Please answer any questions that are germane to your experiences.) 

What issues have you addressed for which you needed information from the city government? (No more than two sentences please.) 

Could you get timely access to all the documents and records you needed, and if not, what was the nature of the documents you couldn’t get? 

What departments did you deal with, and at what level were they unresponsive? 

Were you aware of all council/board/commission discussions of the issue you were addressing, and if not, how do you think you should have been able to get the notification you needed? 

Did the general public and the press have the access they needed to assess the issues you have dealt with, and if not, what or where were the barriers? What procedures would you suggest to remove the barriers or generally improve the efficiency of the process? 

Have you been satisfied with the lines of communication when you wished to address public officials, such as during public comment periods at meetings? Has enough space been available to accommodate large crowds? 

Have officials been able to meet with you? (That is, has any official been formally barred from meeting with you?) 


Can you think of any realistic measures that would enhance or better organize public participation at meetings? 

Are you satisfied that meetings are held with adequate public notice and that what is to be discussed is clearly stated, with sufficient background material available in a timely enough manner for the public to make informed judgments? 

On the issues you’ve dealt with, do you believe council members and commissioners have had adequate access to the background material before voting and time to read the  

This questionnaire was prepared by the Berkeley Citizens Sunshine Coalition, a newly formed group of journalists, elected and appointed officials and other citizens working for a more open Berkeley government. Please contact us at the address above and come to our next meeting, which will be devoted to soliciting public input on Berkeley citizens’ information and access needs. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on July 18 in Meeting Room A, Central Library. 


Peter Sussman and Judith Scherr 

For Berkeley Citizens  

Sunshine Coalition