Oakland Privacy Wrote A Really Nice — And Really Powerful — Letter Of Support For Bob Wieckowski’s Minor But Essential SB931 — Which Would Require Local Agencies To Email Copies Of Their Agendas To Members Of The Public On Request — Read It Right Here! — And Think About Writing Your Own!

As you may well remember, earlier this year Senator Bob Wieckowski introduced the small but essential SB931. The Brown Act already requires public agencies to mail copies of agendas to members of the public on request.1At §54954.1 This bill would require them to email them if asked to.

It’s very strange but sadly true that there are plenty of little backwater agencies, mostly business improvement districts and charter schools, who are so intent on obstruction that they will refuse to email agendas even though it’s free, even though they already email agendas to people they approve of. They will insist that the law only requires them to mail agendas.

And don’t get me started on how they send them via certified mail so that if people miss the first delivery it’s essentially too late to find out what the meeting is about. And if it’s a special meeting? Or if someone’s unhoused and doesn’t have reliable mail service? Forget it. So like I said, this is a minor problem, something these agencies ought to be doing anyway but some of them just won’t and Wieckowski’s bill will fix it.

As far as I know there’s no organized opposition. I mean, what are they going to say? That they enjoy exploiting this unfortunate loophole to mess with people? But there’s a lot of support! I already wrote about the letter sent by our friends at the Los Angeles Sunshine Coalition. The California News Publishers Association sent a nice little letter. And just the other day I learned that Oakland Privacy, a group I hadn’t heard of before this, wrote a really extraordinary, really dynamic letter in support.

You can read the entire thing below, but they raise a really important point that no other support letter has brought out in such detail. That’s the fact that if members of the public want to monitor the agendas of many local agencies to see if they want to comment on specific items, essentially their only practical choice right now is to check the agencies’ websites regularly.

For people or groups that monitor tens or hundreds of agencies this is not only time-consuming but also unreliable. Requiring notifications by email would solve this problem. Anyway, as I said, read on for the full letter, and if you have a moment, why not drop Wieckowski a line or call him in support yourself?


VIA EMAIL
March 10, 2020
California Senate Governance and Finance Committee
California State Capital
Room # 408
Sacramento CA 95814

Members: Hon. Mark McGuire, Chair, Hon. John Moorlach, Vice-Chair, Hon. Jim Beall, Hon. Robert Hertzberg, Hon. Melissa Hurtado, Hon. Jim Nielsen, Hon. Scott Weiner

cc: Colin Grinnell

SB 931 – {SUPPORT}

Oakland Privacy is pleased to support Senate Bill 931, which would require a legislative body to email a copy of the agenda or a copy of all the documents constituting the agenda packet if so requested
.
Oakland Privacy is a citizen’s coalition that works regionally to defend the right to privacy, enhance public transparency, and increase oversight of law enforcement, particularly regarding the use of surveillance techniques and equipment. We were instrumental in the creation of the first standing municipal citizens’ privacy advisory commission in the City of Oakland, and we have engaged in privacy enhancing legislative efforts with several Northern California cities and regional entities. As experts on municipal privacy reform, we have written use policies and impact reports for a variety of surveillance technologies, conducted research and investigations, and developed frameworks for the implementation of equipment with respect for civil rights, privacy protections and community control.

As governmental transparency advocates and sponsors of a significant amount of local legislation that is focused on governmental oversight and community accountability, we can report that Senate Bill 931 would be a great help to groups like ourselves which engage in multi-jurisdictional advocacy.

Oakland Privacy’s primary focus is local oversight laws that defend privacy rights in the face of growing surveillance activities. In order to pursue the passage of local laws and ordinances and to speak up on behalf of the right to privacy when privacy-challenging initiatives are brought forward in jurisdictions throughout Northern California, we regularly attempt to monitor publicly noticed meeting agendas for over two dozen local government agencies in our service region, including city councils, county boards of supervisors and regional transit agencies. This is a huge and somewhat unmanageable task. On more than one occasion, we have missed discussions of interest simply due to lack of timely checking. These missed opportunities are frustrating, both for us, and for the involved agencies, which are deprived of meaningful community input at the most germane stage of the process.

Oakland Privacy is an experienced advocacy entity and we have tried numerous methodologies to make sure all the bases are covered. These have included an automated Twitter bot to survey noticed agendas in search of keywords, and recurring notifications to members with agenda-checking reminders. For less experienced advocates, we expect the problems we experience with multi-jurisdictional advocacy are even more severe.

Allowing for interested parties to receive timely notifications upon request by email would make it much easier to identify appropriate meetings for attendance and/or written input and to schedule community resources in a well-planned manner, rather than last minute fire drills.

We believe the more orderly release of information to directly interested parties will also be of benefit to municipal agencies, who will be able to field less day-of-the-meeting input, which often has the effect of causing postponements and delays due to the need to review and consider new feedback.

We do have one suggestion to improve the proposed bill. In our experience, meeting packets for local government bodies can often be extremely large with page counts in the thousands, so we recommend that the bill allow for the email to contain a link to an online packet file available for download, rather than conveying the large file directly via email.

With this simple clarification, we would ask for your support for Senate Bill 931 as a civic engagement measure to make it easier for community members to participate in local government discussions in their areas of interest.

Sincerely,

Tracy Rosenberg
Member, and on behalf of, Oakland Privacy
4799 Shattuck Avenue Oakland, CA 94609
www.oaklandprivacy.org

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