Editorial: Oppose the Plan to Repeal Irvine’s Sunshine Ordinance
A government that wants less transparency is a government that cannot be trusted. As the saying goes, “Democracy dies in darkness.”
The proposal by Vice-Mayor Tammy Kim and Council Member Mike Carroll to eliminate Irvine’s Sunshine Ordinance is a radical departure from the city’s unanimous position in favor of the ordinance just three years ago. With American democracy under attack, any restrictions on the public’s right to know, government transparency, or citizen participation in the democratic process are dangerous and should be vehemently opposed.
On November 9, 2021, the Irvine City Council is scheduled to vote on Consent Calendar Item 2.8 (Ord. 21-14) to rescind Irvine’s Sunshine Ordinance (Ord. 18-10). The controversial proposal would roll back progress made on open government and return the city to meeting only the bare minimum legal requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The Sunshine Ordinance gives residents and officials 12 days to review, study, and prepare for public meetings, while the Brown Act only provides 3 days.
This proposal is a significant step backward for the City of Irvine.
Original 2018 Staff Report on the Sunshine Ordinance
When the Sunshine Ordinance was initially considered by the City Council on October 23, 2018, as Agenda Item 3.1, the staff report read,
“The City, including its Council, its commissions, and its committees, exists to conduct the people’s business. That business is conducted most effectively when the public has the information and the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the city’s legislative and other decision-making processes. Informed participation is protected by assuring that:
(1) the public has advanced notice of business that is scheduled for consideration by the City Council and City commissions,
(2) the public has timely and reasonable access to information and materials that may be considered by the City Council and City commissions,
(3) the public has the opportunity to present opinions, viewpoints, and information to the city’s decision-making bodies, and
(4) the city’s decision-making bodies conduct their meetings in full view of the public. Minimum standards for each of these four pillars of good governance are found in the Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code § 54950 et seq.) and the California Public Records Act (Government Code § 6250 et seq.).”
“To that end, City staff has assembled a proposed ordinance that significantly bolsters public transparency and the dissemination of information, so that citizens may be fully informed and retain control over the instruments of local government.’
Irvine Watchdog’s Position (2018)
After the Sunshine Ordinance was enacted, Irvine Watchdog wrote,
“Irvine Watchdog is thankful the City Council is listening to its residents. We’ve said it all along – transparency, accountability, and honesty make for good government… voters want more visibility, not less. We wholeheartedly support the spirit behind this new ordinance and hope that it represents the return of inclusive and transparent governance.”
What City Leaders Said at the Time (2018)
As reported by the Voice of OC, Planning Commissioner Anthony Kuo, also a City Council candidate, said that the Planning Commission had to continue a vote because one commissioner didn’t have time to read all the reports on it. “We ended up continuing the item for two weeks … had we had the Sunshine Ordinance then, we wouldn’t have had to continue it,” Kuo said during public comment.
According to the Voice of OC, Councilwoman Melissa Fox said the more extended notice period [as provided for under the Sunshine Ordinance] would afford the council members more public feedback and allow residents more time to read through agenda reports and supplemental information.
“I was delivered three feet of documents on a Friday, for a meeting Tuesday evening,” Fox said. “So, the ability to get public input on these very important matters should be substantially increased.”
The Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on November 12, 2018, discussing the proposed two-year city budget cycle and wrote, “City Council approval of a two-year budget cycle would build on the recent Irvine Sunshine Ordinance, which promotes transparency by giving the public an agenda notice of 12 days – four times the minimum amount of time required by California law.”
In an editorial in the Orange Counter Register on October 22, 2018, by Irvine City Clerk Molly McLaughlin, wrote “a 12-day window provides every community member the logistical and timely opportunity to thoroughly review agenda items. The chances for all interested parties grow exponentially for pre-meeting discussions, sharing of information, and asking of questions. The pulse of an entire community can be felt across 12 days… Irvine is committed to the type of visibility all government watchdogs now demand – from this newspaper to the community member who wants to be fully informed, whether or not she or he attends a City Council meeting.”
In a press release issued on October 12, 2018, City Manager John Russo said, “The 12-day window allows every community member the time they need to review agenda items thoroughly… people and business owners who pay their taxes to run a good government ought to have the opportunity to share information, ask questions, and make their opinions known before City Hall acts on their behalf.”
Things have sure changed under the current city leadership.
Oppose the Roll-back of Transparency
The mission of the Irvine Watchdog is to advocate for transparency, honesty, and accountability. We agree with the comments made by city leaders in 2018, and we strongly oppose the retrograde effort to eliminate the Sunshine Ordinance. This alarming and undemocratic proposal will restrict public access and suffocate our right to know. Less government transparency is terrible public policy, whose only purpose is to help those with something to hide.
Therefore, we call on all members of the City Council and concerned residents to condemn and oppose this proposal. We salute members of the public who have already stood up to defend our rights against the political and special interest forces in Irvine that would prefer to operate in the dark.
Branda LinNovember 3, 2021 at 9:03 am
To give credit where credit is due, four of our Councilmembers voted to rescind the Sunshine Ordinance at the Oct. 26th meeting — Mayor Farrah Khan, and Councilmembers Mike Carroll, Tammy Kim, and Anthony Kuo. The final vote on whether or not to rescind the Sunshine Ordinance will take place this Tuesday, Nov. 9th.
Councilmembers, please say NO to the repeal! Please keep the Sunshine Ordinance to promote a more well-informed citizenry, allow enough time for residents and Councilmembers alike to read through staff reports and agendas so they are better prepared before decisions are made.
The weight of the decisions being made deserve proper scrutiny.
Jeremy FicarolaNovember 3, 2021 at 9:11 am
I vehemently oppose the repeal of the Sunshine Ordinance. And the rationale given for repealing the Ordinance during last meeting is so weak, how can it be justified? I believe some city council members claimed they did not have a lot of time to prepare for their next meetings with the Ordinance in place. When asked about the Ordinance’s impact on Irvine staff, Interim City Manager Marysheva said “[staff] has to handle a little more work” and again said the ordinance requires “little bit of additional work”. That’s it? The ordinance is not to serve the city staff. It serves a vital function for the public. The current system under the ordinance is working. It is not broken. Repealing this for the benefit of convenience is a direct attack on the public and transparency.
Doug ElliottNovember 3, 2021 at 9:34 am
Having grown accustomed to hearing our elected officials boast about Irvine being “Number One” or “The Best” in various ways, it was a bit jarring to hear councilmembers justify this repeal by saying if the Brown Act is good enough for other Orange County cities, it’s good enough for Irvine. Really? Like Anaheim, which is being sued for alleged Brown Act violations in connection with the shady deal to sell Angel Stadium? No, not good enough for Irvine at all! We need to keep the Sunshine Ordinance!
Richard GreenNovember 3, 2021 at 11:54 am
The efficiency argument put forward by Vice-Mayor Kim and Councilmember Carroll to justify this rollback of transparency is often used by those in power to restrict public participation, limit democracy, and further insulate themselves from public scrutiny. If the current process isn’t working then that is a management and leadership problem.
Democracy was never intended to be efficient. It is deliberative, messy, and transparent. Only authoritarians value efficiency over the democratic process. This city council majority is on the wrong side of open government and public participation. This is a gross violation of the public’s interest.
GregCostiganNovember 3, 2021 at 12:26 pm
Housing > Sunshine – people need a place to live right?
We also have most parks per capita than anywhere in the OC.
Not sure I see what the problem is here?
Christina SheaNovember 4, 2021 at 7:55 am
This editorial explained it very well.. who is talking about parks and more development here? Park expansion isn’t on the agenda, closing down avenues for strong public participation is the community concern. As one of the supporters of the sunshine ordinance in 2018, the removal is a very bad public policy proposal by this Council majority.
Joshua MooreNovember 4, 2021 at 3:52 pm
You solve problems like housing by having strong and accountable democratic institutions in place. A government beholden to the people and responsive to their concerns is best-suited to finding and implementing solutions.
Branda LinNovember 5, 2021 at 10:02 am
Here is a comment shared with Irvine Watchdog via email:
In the article it states Council Members, and I know Planning Commissioners in particular, often receive large stacks of documents to review before meetings. 3 days, on top of a full time job, is not enough time to prepare for meetings. It also does not give members of the public enough time to review and ask staff questions and receive a response in time for the meeting. If meaningful, informative discussions are sought, the Sunshine Ordinance helped with that. I’m fairly certain some of the Council Members don’t review their agenda packets as is. Only giving them 3 days may provide even more reason to neglect their duties to scrutinize important issues facing our city.
One thing many may not be aware of is, the deadline for the Council Members to submit Memos in order to place something on the agenda is 14 days, if it requires a staff report. If no staff report is required, there is a 7 day deadline. So this move to rescind the Sunshine Ordinance is actually moot and the excuse to lighten the load disingenuous.
The Council also recently, also coincidentally led by Vice Mayor Tammy Kim and Mike Carroll, doubled the Council Executive Assistant (CEA) budgets from $80,000 to $175,000 with the difference to be paid by the Great Park Sponsorship Program, which does not generate enough money to cover the CEA budget. Which leads to two questions:
Since each Councilmember now has double the money to pay for more assistants, there should be less trouble getting the needed Memos out in time for the Council meeting at least 3 weeks out and getting any other assistant they need to do their job of governing.
And some may know, the Great Park Board recently voted down the UCI Health Sponsorship request and the fiscal year is about half way through. Therefore, my question would be where will the difference be found when the there is no progress on the sponsorship program? How is the city planning on paying for the doubled CEA budgets?
I wouldn’t be surprised if this decision by the Council was in preparation for a controversial agenda item in the near future – to give the residents less time to mobilize and get the word out.
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