Public Comment

New: Opponents Are Still Inflating Sunshine Ordinance Costs

By Josh Wolf for the Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance Committee
Saturday May 26, 2012 - 07:45:00 AM

The cost of a proposed Sunshine Ordinance in Berkeley continues to be inflated by the city government, but the projected costs have been shrinking due to continued community pressure to justify their projections.

When an early draft of the Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance was submitted in 2009, the city tabulated that it would cost $2.9 million each year to implement the proposed open government law, according to city documents the Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance received through a public records request.
Among these costs were $689 office-chairs and more than $3,000 to install three new cubicles. The city also said it would need to buy 13 portable PA systems at a cost of $10,000 a piece in order to record its meetings, and that it would add nearly a million dollars to the photocopy budget in order to make copies of the complete agenda available to the public.  

One of the most confusing line items on the "Summary of Financial Impacts" is the $3,448 allocated for City Car Share so that a city staffer can personally deliver printed copies of the agenda to each of the city's libraries which is a 9-mile route, according to the document. Why the city concluded that it made more sense to play "pony express" than to simply e-mail the documents to the libraries for them to print on-site isn't clear, but this is a prime example why the city needs more Sunshine through greater transparency and open government.  

A revised summary of the financial impacts pegged the annual cost at about $2 million. The nearly million dollars in copy costs were wiped away. The courier costs remain, even though a secured iPad with all of the appropriate city documents at each of the libraries is the only thing that makes sense in an environmentally conscious city like Berkeley. 

But while material costs were reduced in this new summary from May of 2010, the staff-time allocated to implement the ordinance still doesn't add up. City Attorney Zach Cowen told us that there could be as many as 20 additional meetings a year as a result of the sunshine ordinance. In order to create those 20 extra packets a year, Acting City Clerk Mark Numainville says the city will need to hire three additional employees at a cost of $338,317 a year, despite the fact that the total number of agenda items that will need to be researched will essentially remain unchanged. 

Although most of the technology requirements in the Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance are already mandated by the Berkeley's existing Open Government Ordinance, the city claims it will need to hire two employees at a cost of $266,477. Although the changes required by the Sunshine Ordinance are not insignificant, they should not require any significant time once they are implemented. 

The city calculates that if the Sunshine Ordinance passes it will need to hire an additional 14.5 full-time employees; in other words, the city estimates it will need about 580 hours of work a week to implement what are essentially minor changes to how meetings are conducted and how information is made available to the public.  

Now the city is saying it will only cost $1.5 million a year to implement the Sunshine Ordinance, but with a number that continues to slide and remains littered with needless expenses, it's highly doubtful the Sunshine ordinance will cost anywhere near that amount. After meeting with members of the Sunshine Ordinance Committee the city also agreed to make some minor changes to the summary that will appear on the November ballot, but it is still a long way from an impartial summary. 

On Tuesday, the City Council will officially certify the ballot and its summary for the election. The shaky cost projections alone are a reason that Berkeley needs a Sunshine Ordinance, and until it is passed the voters will continue to be left in the dark and denied access to information and adequate notice around council decisions. 

Please support the Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance by writing to your council members and attending this Tuesday's meeting. The Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance has prepared a petition that we urge you to sign if you can't attend. 

This campaign is only beginning and we urge you to visit and become a supporter by volunteering your time or donating to the campaign.