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Agenda 2013 - Let The Sunshine In

Will our City Council allow the sunshine ordinances one brave Councilman recommmends?


“Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes
Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar
Life is around you and in you
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in The sunshine in”

—Age of Aquarius


Imagine for a moment you had been there when the sunrise revealed the sails of Columbus’ ships off the coast of what was to become America. Or you were in Dodge City the first time a car lumbered along bellowing smoke down the dirt streets that had been the homes to horses and cows. Or imagine you were taking in the early morning sun on a beach in New Jersey at the turn of the century when you heard the sputtering of the Wright Brothers’ engine and then saw it glide through the air like a bird.

These were seminal moments – the end of an era and the start of another, yet so fragile is the moment that we can miss the significance. The new America was just another way to get to market more quickly. No one could have dreamed of what future it held. The new car was noisy, expensive, and hardly a meaningful substitute for the faithful horse. And a “flying machine” was a novelty that surely was intended for an Icarus type fate.

I’m suggesting we have such a moment now, in, of all places, our own City Hall, and while it may not make repercussions on the same magnitude as the discovery of America, it will surely change the lives of our citizens in the coming years.

Apart from the occasional moment (e.g., the medical marijuana dispensary debate, the request for a south county animal shelter) the Lake Forest City Council meetings have been as interesting as watching paint dry. But that is changing. The last council meeting could have been billed as “the Clash of the Titans”. The main card was the Planning Commission applicants where the new Turks (Voigts, Robinson, and Nick) unseated the Herzog appointees and put in their own (Tea Party) sympathizers. Along with the OC Register and the Patch, I covered this dramatic change. But what hasn’t been covered was the under-card, which took place a few hours later, long after the Council by law should have adjourned.

In the wee hours of the night, nearly 3 ½ hours after the public meeting began, newly elected Councilman Nick asked the Council to consider, at their next meeting (Feb 5), improving access to City records for the public. Specifically he asked for the Council to consider

• Sunshine ordinances
• Putting everything (not prohibited by law) that is available to the public online, “without any exception”
• Creating a “registry for lobbyists”

His fellow new Turk Councilman Dwight Robinson was favorably disposed to the idea but wasn’t exactly sure what “sunshine ordinances” were.

Peter Herzog, who used to command the council along with the “Gang of 3” (2 of whom are now gone) chimed in. He complained that the “staff can’t do it”, apparently forgetting that our City staff are very well paid indeed and many of them make in excess of $100,000 a year on salary alone. Then he claimed, on the one hand, he wasn’t familiar with sunshine ordinances and on the other hand, he thought they caused a lot of problems. In any case, he assured everyone that there were no problems in Lake Forest, so what was all the fuss about? Besides, he argued (Lawyers always like to give you a lot of reasons in the hopes that at least one of them will be valid), there were “too many things on the agenda” and we needed to take care of “necessary business”.

(I assume by “necessary business” he meant awarding the types of contracts and favors that result in council members receiving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, but I could be wrong about that. See my previous blog and make your own decision).

Councilwoman McCullough came to Herzog’s defense (a strange event given their history and the fact that at one time she wanted to get a restraining order issued against him), and said that she “didn’t want to overload our staff.”

It was left to our new mayor, Scott Voigts, to play the diplomat and suggest that the issue be placed in the Council package so they could review the issue, and at a later time, be brought before the Council. (Nice job, Scott)

Like you, I’m not privy to Board packages, so let me give you a brief summary of what I think Councilman Nick was asking for.

Sunshine ordinances were designed to open local government to the people. They make it easier for people to see what’s happening in their city government and to have a voice in critical decision making. They involve such things as making public with whom city officials are meeting, requiring lobbyists to register, putting FPPC filings online, having fewer closed sessions and requiring more information about closed sessions, etc.

Several cities have enacted sunshine ordinances – San Francisco, Richmond, Oakland, San Diego, Vallejo, Milpitas, etc. Closer to home, Brea and Santa Ana recently passed sunshine ordinances. As far as I can tell, no city that passed a sunshine ordinance has repealed one.

For more reading on this subject –

http://california-sunshine-ordinances.wikispaces.com/

Of course you don’t have to pass a sunshine ordinance to open up government, and in a previous post I listed many ways this could be done. And without sunshine ordinances other cities (e.g., Irvine, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel) have opened up their books to the public. The virtue of a sunshine ordinance is that it has teeth – failure to follow through can result in punishment.

Looking at the upcoming agenda for Feb 5 it’s clear that the issues of sunshine ordinances and transparency are not on the table yet. But Councilman Nick has done our community a great service by raising the question and we can only hope that at least two more people on the council will have the courage to support him.

(BTW – if you missed the Jan 15 Council meeting you can watch it at

http://agenda2009.city-lakeforest.com/SIREPub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=503&doctype=AGENDA

Nick’s comments begin at 3:27 and the entire discussion lasts about 10 minutes. If you have the extra time you can watch my comments at 2:53)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

JustUs February 04, 2013 at 05:59 PM
I know you want the new members of the council to turn over a new leaf so badly that you can taste it, Jim. This is understandable. You have worked hard to bring transparency and openness to city government. You would like to see some fruits for your efforts. And to see little meatless bones thrown our way is like a cascade of good tidings after years of famine. The term 'Sunshine Ordinance' sounds nice on it's face. But if you really examine the outcomes or benefits of such flowery terminology you might be a little more reserved in your enthusiasm. Look at Santa Ana, for instance. What has really changed there? They are in the midst of ousting their city manager and everything is conducted behind closed doors. The people get the information second-hand. The negotiations over the golden parachute is concealed. And much of the process in appointing a new CM will be in secret. And the people are given some lame excuse why information is concealed even after the "Sunshine Ordinance" is enacted. So beware of games with words. It's an old political trick to make people think they're getting more than what's actually delivered. Always look to OUTCOMES. Never look to promises. As I said before, if change was really in the air why didn't anyone on the Council object to the recent gambling house approval by the Planning Commission. There it would take only ONE Council person objection to force a full Council vote. I thought they were all 'for the children'?
Jim Gardner February 04, 2013 at 06:29 PM
You're right to be cautious. Talk is cheap. Yet at least this is very good talk and it brings with it hope. Look at the transition - Nick campaigns on (among other things) a platform of transparency He gets elected Soon after he asks the council to consider enacting transparency laws The Council agrees, but puts it off until they can study it The staff circulate information to the Council so they can study it NEXT STEP??? So it's moving in the right direction. It took years to get the old Council to get the package online. I think we're moving faster. All things considered it's probably as fast as we can move, given that Herzog and McCullough will undoubtedly be drags on any type of progressive movement. But bear in mind both of them come up for re-election in 2014. As to your second concern, I agree completely as well. Sunshine ordinances are not without their own set of problems. They guarantee nothing. Enforcement can be problemmatic. And they add a little bit to the cost of government. In fact, many of the transparency efforts I talked about in my previous blog can be put in place w/o any ordinance, and quite frankly, I'd prefer this approach to the long drawn out process of enacting an ordinance. I'm going to recommend to Mr. Nick (if he's reading this) that he propose individual measures (e.g., put FPPC filings online) even while he seeks the larger ordinance route. Bottom line - I agree with your skepticism, but I temper it with a dose of hope.
JustUs February 04, 2013 at 06:59 PM
But Jim. All newly elected politicians do this. They MUST move slightly in the direction of their political campaign platform to maintain any credibility. But all depend upon our short human memories. That is their ace in the hole. They wet your lips and then fall short of expectations. I have watched this game for years. Remember the Tea Party champions who were elected to Congress in 2010 who were going to change the crooked financial system in America? Many of them are now on the Too Big To Fail banker payroll - collecting large sums from those banks in political contributions. All the sudden they went silent. This is American politics! And it's really not much different on the local level. Only the stakes are lowered. I don't know much about Nick. All I know is that he is a politician. And based on what I've seen birds of a feather always flock together. I don't want to be skeptical. I really don't. I would LOVE to trust politicians. But in good faith, I just can't. That would be like buying 9 lemons in a row from used car salesmen then trusting the 10th one. I'm sorry. I wasn't raised that way. As I said before, if one of the new Councilmen (or the status quo ones) really wanted to indicate change they would stand behind their 'save the children' motto and JUST ONE OF THEM publicly object to the recent gambling house approval which would FORCE a full-on Council Vote! SHOW ME! NO MORE TALK! DO IT! There is your opportunity!
Jim Gardner February 04, 2013 at 07:18 PM
Hi Justus, I agree with you again. Politicians rely upon us being asleep so they can come out every 2 or 4 years, say great things, and then slip back where they pay attention to their own needs until the next election. This is the mistake I made with regard to Scott Voigts, who promised to oppose Musick Jail, who promised to work for better pet resources, for honest government, etc, and then did very few of these things. In fact he voted to allow them to create maximum security cells at Musick and he accepts as much money from vested interests as even Herzog. That's why I have continued to be active on The Patch following this election. I don't know what happened with the gambling parlor. But I know that Dwight Robinson got the Council to refer starting a Dog Park to the Parks Commission, something that hadn't been done in 20 years and was long overdue. And now Adam Nick is getting the Council to study sunshine ordinances. This is more than Scott Voigts did in 2 years on the Council, and as for the rest of them, well that's just a joke. Herzog and McCullough have been working on the same issues for a decade - Alton Pkwy extension, new city center, sports, park, etc. It's true, some of these things are slowing coming to fruition. But it's been 10 years! It's like completing high school at the age of 25. Nice to know that you finally graduated, but why did it take so long? I think I see some good progress here. Only time will tell. Let's support and encourage them
JustUs February 04, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Yes, you and I see things in many of the same ways. To your credit, you have a more optimistic approach. I am more a realist (pessimist, if you will) based on clear recognized patterns of the past. I hope your outlook supercedes mine. But if I were a betting man, I would bet on mine and against yours. Hey Jim, did you happen to hear that some of the residents in the neighborhood of El Toro HS have sued the school district for approving the restructuring of the El Toro HS stadium? Apparently the argument is that the Measure B funding did not provide for a remodeling of the existing structure, but only for the construction of a new off-site stadium. I would be interested in your opinion on whether this might throw a monkey wrench into the school district's approval and intended additions to the existing structure?
Jim Gardner February 04, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Hi JustUs, I am very aware of the law suit and I am sympathetic to the desire of the neighbors to preserve their quality of life just as I recognize the desire of the broader community to have a stadium. I wrote a long position paper on the subject and if you write to me at drjgardner@gmail.com I will be happy to send you a copy. The issue is not a simple "yes" or "no" type of issue which is why I offer the position paper. I'm not a lawyer so I can't comment on the legal merits of the lawsuit, but to my knowledge, the SVUSD is not planning to use Measure B funds but rather LF redevelopment funds for this purpose. OTOH there seem to be a great many alternative legal arguments that could be posed.
JustUs February 04, 2013 at 09:07 PM
"I think I see some good progress here. Only time will tell. Let's support and encourage them" Only when I see proven outcomes. Not a minute beforehand. I am tired of supporting politicians who only end up stabbing me in the back. Not any more. And while a dog park would be nice, it is not what I would call a huge celebratory awakening of a new and improved government. How many people south of Jeronimo would put their dogs in a car and transport them to a dog park in the hills. Few, if any. It would be easier to visit the one on Canyon road toward Laguna. If they are going to create dog parks, create one in each part of Lake Forest. Maybe 5 small ones in all within walking distance of most homes. Now THAT would be an accomplishment! Not just one BIG dog park. Five small ones. How does that sound? But before we sell out for the dogs we need more transparency (real transparency, not contrived transparency), more sensible actions (not spending $2M to fight medical marijuana dispensaries that were approved by voters) (or stupid park bans that are unconstitutional and waste precious government resources (time, etc...), and result in conflicts with county government agencies). The recent Musick vote told me EVERYTHING I need to know about the Council. I need indisputable proof. And one item of discussion won't do it. It must be consistently a local government of, by and for the people. Then I will stand up and applaud wildly. Not a minute beforehand.
Jim Gardner February 04, 2013 at 09:45 PM
Hi again, I have proposed either (a) a series of "dog zones" in which small parts of existing parks are fenced off for off-leash dogs, or (b) "pocket parks" which are small parks built in relatively unused areas (e.g., the end of Ridge Rte where it butts into the freeway). Laguna Woods has an example of a "pocket park" which costs less than $200,000 to build and which is maintained for about $15,000/yr. Dana Point has 5 parks with "dog zones" which are even chaper to build. So we are thinking along the same lines. A single exclusive use dog park would be more expensive to build and serve fewer people. These zones or pocket parks would be cheaper to build and serve more people. They could be built where we have the highest density of dog owners. We'll see what the Parks Commission comes up with. That being said, I agree that the dog park is not the sine qua non of a new era in Lake Forest politics. But it is a good start. PS - bear in mind that the Musick vote was done before the new Council took office. Blame Herzog, McCullough, and Voigts for that betrayal. Nick and Robinson had nothing to do with that. And when they come up for re-election, be sure to remember what Herzog, McCullough, and Voigts voted for and then remember that they lied to us and said it meant we weren't going to get maximum security inmates when in truth that's exactly what they signed off on.
JustUs February 04, 2013 at 10:03 PM
Splendid ideas on the dog parks, Jim! If they could spend $2M to defend the ouster of the medical marijuana dispensaries, certainly they could spend $1M or so on dog parks from which the citizens and their animals could actually derive a benefit! I realize that Robinson and Nick were not around when the unanimous Musick vote went down. So no one can hang that one on them. I just wonder how they would've voted had they been in office at the time. I will give the benefit of the doubt to Nick and say he would've been a dissenting vote since he campaigned strongly against the Musick expansion. But I am not so certain about Robinson. We will learn more about both of them as time marches on. The fact that none of the existing Council who were present for that vote asked any hard questions of Hutchens while she was at the podium was a dead give-a-way to me that they all occupy the same political bed. All of them must have read the agreement that was signed prior to that meeting.
JustUs February 05, 2013 at 07:11 AM
But to be honest, Jim, we all love to blame the politicians. But the citizens also have a responsibility that often gets overlooked. It's not enough to go to the polls once every 2 years and cast a ballot and then put the government on auto-pilot under the assumption that the guy or gal we elected will do what they promised. Someone has to hold their feet to the fire. And that's where the system generally fails. It's easy to complain or to assign responsibility to others. It's much harder to put some skin in the game and do some lifting. And I am just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to that. You have been the model for activism in LF and my hat comes off to you. Not every community has a Jim Gardner and many of us are grateful we have a guy like you. But you surely can't do it alone. For instance, look at this discussion. It's me and you. You'd think maybe 2 or 3 others would be interested in local governance and chime in. But there just doesn't seem to be much of an interest. And when the citizens don't take an interest in the direction of their own city how could it possibly result in a happy ending? I guess the question is how do we spark an interest? Or is that even possible? I just don't buy the argument "Things are going fine and that's the reason the citizens don't get actively involved". That' not reality. There were about 100 people out of 80,000 residents at the Candidate's Forum. There should be more than that.

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