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Town Council ran afoul of open-meeting law, CNPA attorney says

Original post made on Apr 10, 2011

Editor"s note: In an earlier version of this story, the Almanac incorrectly reported that former councilman Richard Merk ascribed the council's skittishness regarding below-market-rate housing to learning, 18 months ago, that Windmill School was interested in purchasing the property at 900 Portola Road, formerly Al's Nursery. In a subsequent interview, Mr. Merk did not back away from his opinion about the council's skittishness, but said that to his recollection, the council did not specifically discuss BMR housing in connection with Windmill School's interest in the nursery.

By Dave Boyce

The Portola Valley Town Council may have jumped into a briar patch on March 23. The council voted unanimously to adjourn to an urgent closed session at the end of its regular meeting so as to discuss 900 Portola Road, the former site of Al's Nursery that was sold recently.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 12:00 AM

Comments (7)

Posted by concerned resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Apr 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Thank you for covering a very important story, which was read with real interest by many concerned residents of Portola Valley. It was very well written and raised issues that many of us would not dare address directly with the council. Many of us regularly follow your stories and seek them out in our copies of The Almanac.

This is a very important story and we ask that you please continue to follow it. Many residents of PV have been concerned for quite sometime about actions of the town council and whether adequate input is sought or welcomed by the public.

Many of us are wondering what the next step could be to have this issue of alleged violation of the Brown Act investigated. We look forward with real interest to ongoing coverage.

Thank you again on behalf of more than 100 PV residents and counting!

Kindest Regards.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Rigorous enforcement of the Brown Act's requirements for open meetings and permitting public comments is essential and, sadly, has zero priority with the San Mateo District Attorney. Therefore, this responsibility falls to all concerned citizens.

Two very useful resources for concerned citizens are:

Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Peter, Well said.

"sadly, has zero priority with the San Mateo District Attorney. Therefore, this responsibility falls to all concerned citizens"

This is one of the draw backs of not having a competitive election. where the citizens could ask the potential candidates what there position is on enforcing the Brown Act Laws.
28 years and counting of NO enforcement in this county.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 10, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Citizens of Portola Valley should show up at their next Town Council meeting. At the very beginning of the session, the Mayor will convene a "public comment session" where items that ARE NOT on that evening's agenda can be discussed. Go to the microphone and tell your Council that you resent them violating the Brown Act and holding their discussions in secret.

If you can't take ten minutes to do this, then please don't complain.

Everyone of Portola Valley's Council Members have taken a course on the Brown Act and know the rules. Shame on them.

Posted by Erica Blair
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm

We don't need to import the ridiculous sniping of Menlo Park and Atherton politics to Portola Valley. No one in town thinks the Brown Act issue is anything but a possible technical glitch.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Erica - we get the government we deserve.

Government is required to be performed in the open so citizens can see and comment.

When elected officials violate the law, it is not a technical glitch. Try using that defense the next time you're in traffic court and let me know how that works for you.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Erica - before you dismiss the importance of compliance with the Brown Act please read at least the initial sections:

"Two key parts of the Brown Act have not changed since its adoption in 1953. One is the Brown Act’s initial section, declaring the Legislature’s intent:
“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards, and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s
business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good
for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

The people reconfirmed that intent fifty years later at the November 2004 election by adopting Proposition 59, amending the California Constitution to include a public right of access to government information:
“The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and
agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”

The Brown Act’s other unchanged provision is a single sentence:
“All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as
otherwise provided in this chapter.”
That one sentence is by far the most important of the entire Brown Act. If the opening is the soul, that sentence is the heart of the Brown Act."

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