Public Comment

BRT, the Brown Act and the Sunshine Ordinance

By Dean Metzger
Thursday April 15, 2010 - 10:26:00 AM

The city council has said it will hold a special meeting to hear public testimony concerning the staff proposed “Locally Preferred Alternate” (LPA) for BRT in Berkeley. This meeting is to take place on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at the regular council meeting, with the final vote by the council to be taken on April 27, 2010.  

What does this have to do with the Brown Act (State law governing meetings – Code 54953(a)) and the proposed Sunshine Ordinance (Open government)?  

First, the Brown Act specifically states that meetings must be open and that“all persons shall be permitted to attend”. It also states that all members of the public shall have the right to address the council on agenda items. 

It is hoped that the City would take its obligations seriously. This would seem to mean the City must move the BRT meeting to a venue large enough to accommodate everyone who wants to attend at the same time and provide enough time for everyone to speak. It would seem like both those opposed and for the BRT project would want this to happen.The present practice when there are more people than the council chambers can hold is to shuffle people in and out of the council chambers as space becomes available. 

If the proposed Sunshine Ordinance ordinance were adopted by the city council or approved by the city voters, it would put an end to this practice and void council decisions until the laws of Berkeley and the State of California are followed. It is as simple as that. 

Alan Tobey’s commentary in the April 11, 2010 Berkeley Daily Planet titled “The Sunshine Ordinance and the People’s Republic” is an example of the existing government attitude toward change. If city staff agree with and want the proposed change, they will do anything to accomplish their goal, in this case BRT. If they think the change may lessen their chances of getting their way, they attack those proposing change and their ideas. 

During the three years it took to write the Sunshine Ordinance, Alan Tobey, the elected officials, city staff, and their friends could have participated and perhaps added valuable ideas to the ordinance. Instead they chose to sit on the sidelines and wait for the final document, then find ways to criticize it. The League of Woman Voters did participate, but found most of those citizens willing to put in the long hours required to get this done did not agree with them and slowly disengaged from the Citizen’s Sunshine Committee. 

Compare this with the City of Alameda. That city has begun the process of writing a sunshine ordinance. It is pleasant to see that the city managers, city clerks, and city attorneys’ offices are going to participate in the process of writing their ordinance – unlike Berkeley’s officials, who did not work with the Citizen’s Sunshine Committee. 

All of this is followed by Charles Siegel’s commentary in the April 8, 2010 Berkeley Daily Planet. He wants you to believe that those who approve of BRT are in the majority on the BRT project.  

Yes, both he and Alan Tobey are right, measure KK was soundly defeated by the Berkeley voters. What they fail to acknowledge is the fact that BRT was not the focus of KK. Measure KK was an attempt to be sure the democratic process would be given to the citizens of Berkeley on transportation issues that specially dedicated lanes in any part of our community. What the opponents of KK did was use special interest money (in the thousands of dollars) to convince the voters that KK was anti-environmental. Nothing is further from the truth.  

The neighborhood residents who oppose BRT are opposed because; 1). It has not proven that it will be environmentally friendly, 2). It will not serve the local residents, 3). It will cause more traffic on neighborhood streets (not good for the local environment or neighborhood safety), 4). It will not require commuters to and from UCB, or the employees of the City of Berkeley, to get out of their cars and ride the bus, and 6). It will create a hardship on our older citizens who must use the local buses. These neighborhoods have an over whelming majority who oppose BRT. 

The Brown Act requires the BRT discussion and debate to take place in a venue large enough for all to attend and be heard in the same room. The Sunshine ordinance would make that happen.