Proposal to air commission committee meetings rejected because official actions don’t occur there.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to note Ventura Port District’s meetings are not available online but can be requested after the fact by contacting the district office.
STATEWIDE — The journey matters more than the destination, the clichéd saying of travelers and motivational speakers will often tell you. Gov. Jerry Brown, conversely, appears to be prioritizing the destination ahead of the journey, what with the swift stroke of his veto pen on May 14. Did Brown’s decision to reject Assembly Bill 1337 (AB 1337) effectively limit the public’s involvement in government matters?
AB 1337 (introduced by Assembly member Jim Patterson) was presented to the governor as part of an effort to establish greater transparency. The bill specifically called for the regular meetings of three Fish and Game Commission (FGC) committees to be broadcast live.
None of the three FGC committee meetings – Marine Resources, Tribal and Wildlife Resources – are ever broadcast, meaning members of the public must either attend them in person or contact the commission’s staff and have the provide an update. Each committee meets three times per year.
At least nine meetings – three for each FGC committee – would have been added to the docket, potentially costing $120,000 per year. (The commission itself spends $9,700 per two-day meeting, according to the Assembly’s post-veto legislative analysis.)
Complicating matters: Committees meet at various locations across the state, meaning there are realistic occasions when the public might not be able to physically access a meeting, due to finances or scheduling or both.
A post-veto legislative analysis, which was released May 17, stated the rotation of meeting venues was one reason to advance AB 1337 through the legislature and into law.
“Supporters argue that this bill will allow the public more participation in commission special committee and subcommittee meetings, many of which are held in remote areas of the state,” the Assembly’s post-veto legislative analysis stated.
Brown rejected the proposal, providing a three-sentence explanation in his May 14 veto message.
“Public meetings of the full commission, where official actions are taken, are already live broadcast. I believe broadcasts of committee level meetings should be reserved only for those times when there is extraordinary interest by the public,” Brown wrote in his veto. “This is a matter which properly resides within the sound discretion of the commission.”
Questions are immediately raised with each of Brown’s statements.
Why should live broadcasts of meetings only be limited to “where official actions are taken?” Isn’t the public process leading up to the official action of equal or greater significance?
Who decides whether a topic is of “extraordinary interest” by the public? Is there a scenario where a committee could decide a topic is not worthwhile but members of the public believe otherwise?
Should the FGC – or any other judicial/quasi-judicial agency – be granted the discretion of deciding whether to live broadcast committee meetings where issues of public concern are discussed?
The broader question is whether other public agencies or advisory boards should also have their respective meetings broadcast. Newport Beach, for example, does not broadcast its Harbor Commission meetings. The same is true for meetings of Long Beaches Marine Advisory Committee and Oceanside’s Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee.
Harbor Commission meetings in Redondo Beach aren’t broadcast live but the city does provide a recorded copy, on request, to interested parties. Those interested in Ventura Port District’s Board of Port Commissioner meetings can contact the district headquarters and request a copy of the meeting on DVD or USB.
Audio recordings of Marina del Rey’s Small Craft Harbor Commission are also available to the public after each meeting. Santa Barbara’s Harbor Commission, meanwhile, are broadcast live to the public (and available for viewing afterwards).
Shouldn’t each of these meetings be made available to the public via live broadcast? Is Brown’s veto essentially a mandate stating the public’s involvement with policymaking is limited to moments when official acts are taken or during topics of extraordinary interest?
There are also practical matters to consider. What if someone is disabled and does not have the ability to attend a meeting in person? What if someone cannot afford to travel from San Diego to, say, Santa Rosa for a Fish and Game Commission meeting? What if someone is fully capable of attending a meeting but can’t make it due to scheduling issues? Should anyone in these categories be precluded from participating in the policymaking process? Is it fair to expect to essentially require someone to observe or partake in the deliberative process until a commission, council, committee or other quasi-judicial agency is ready to make an official action?
Public input, and a matter of democracy, should factor into any policy deliberation from the outset and not be subject to whether the issue is of “extraordinary interest.” What standard is in place to ensure a policymaker is properly determining the level of interest in an issue (and therefore worthy of greater public input)?
Why should issues not of extraordinary interest be trivialized in the process? One could certainly argue the assignment of value to each policy – and using such value to determine whether a committee meeting should be broadcast live – actually works against the democratic process.
The committee level is actually where all the work is done. Public input on any given policy is actually most significant at the committee level – not when an official action is ready to be taken. Allowing the public to watch live broadcasts of committee level meetings facilitates a more transparent government and fosters a more engaged electorate.
No Recordings/Videos Available Online
- Ventura Port District (Recording available on request)
- Redondo Beach Harbor Commission (Recording available on request)
- Long Beach Marine Advisory Committee
- Newport Beach Harbor Commission
- Oceanside Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee
- Fish and Game Commission Committees
Audio Only Available, No Video Online
- Marina del Rey Small Craft Harbor Commission
- Los Angeles City Council Committees
Live/Recorded Video Available Online
- Santa Barbara Harbor Commission
- Ventura Board of Supervisors (Channel Islands Harbor)
- Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission
- Orange County Board of Supervisors
- Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners
- Avalon City Council
- California Coastal Commission
- Fish and Game Commission
- Boating and Waterways Commission