Public Comment

Open Letter to Berkeley's Mayor and City Council Re Ballot Language Describing the Sunshine Intiative

By Dean Metzger For the Sunshine Ordinance Committee
Monday May 14, 2012 - 10:44:00 PM

Re: Agenda Item #38 (May 15, 2012) 

Dear Mayor Bates and City Council Members, 

The City Attorney has presented the following ballot language for the Sunshine Initiative that has now qualified for the November ballot: 



Shall an ordinance be adopted: enacting new agenda and meetings 

requirements for the City Council, the Rent Stabilization Board and all 

30+ City Commissions, including limits on their ability to respond to 

emergencies and other time-sensitive issues; increasing disclosure 

requirements for public records; and creating a new commission with 

authority to sue the City, at an estimated combined annual cost of 

$2 million? 

Under state law, the ballot description must be accurate and impartial. The above language is neither. It is totally wrong as to both the alleged limits on the City's ability to respond to emergency situations, and as to the “estimated annual cost” of the proposal. Thus: 

1. Emergencies. 

The Sunshine Initiative provides that existing state laws shall govern in emergency situations. Nothing whatsoever is suggested over and above what the City is already bound to do. 

Section 1.30.200 Emergency and Dire Emergency Meetings. 

State law defines the circumstances and procedures for noticing and holding two (2) levels of emergency meetings: an Emergency Meeting and a Dire Emergency Meeting. At the beginning of either an Emergency or a Dire Emergency Meeting, a majority of attending members of the City Council shall confirm the nature of the emergency or dire emergency and the business which is to be transacted. The circumstances under which such meetings may be held and the procedures for holding Emergency and Dire Emergency Meetings in the City shall be at a minimum those that were in effect under State law as of the effective date of this Ordinance. 

  1. Costs.
The City Attorney, without any support whatsoever, alleges “annual costs” of $2,000,000. The only cost study that has ever been done was thoroughly discredited at the Council meeting on June 2, 2009 – Item 37. There it was admitted that cost estimates (then pegged at $2,961,074.00) were based on an earlier version of the proposal, which was quite different from the one which qualified for the ballot. By way of example, fully $1.3 million was allocated to the costs of paper and copying on the assumption that the city would be required to provide all comers with hard copies of vast quantities of material. The fact is that there is no such requirement. Another $400,000 was assumed for new closed captioning and video services which are recommended (but not required) by the Initiative. 

Nor does the City Attorney's language take account of the fact that most of the modest costs of the Initiative have already been assumed by the City's own Open Government Ordinance. The OGO was approved after the above cost study. It has lengthened the advance notice and publication requirements for Council agenda items, and has established a Commission to hear complaints. The costs of doing these things have already been incurred. The honest approach would be to calculate the added costs resulting from the existing OGO, and to estimate the incremental costs of the Initiative, and not to include amounts attributable to the City's obligation to comply with existing City and state law. 


The Council should recognize the proposed language for what it is: an improper attempt to discredit the Sunshine Initiative, rather than to give honest information to the voters. 


Appropriate language would be the following: 




Shall an ordinance be adopted enacting new agenda and meeting 

requirements for the City Council, the Rent Stabilization Board and all City Commissions, increasing disclosure requirements for public records, and replace the Open Government Commission with a new Commission, with authority to enforce this ordinance if provisions in this ordinance are not followed. It is not possible at this time to estimate the incremental costs, if any, of this proposal. 


The Sunshine Ordinance Committee requests a meeting as soon as possible with the City Attorney or his designee so that we may arrive at mutually acceptable language that properly describes this important measure.