Oceano Dunes air quality committees disbanded
February 21, 2011
Under pressure to comply with open meeting law requirements, county and state officials have agreed to dissolve their agreement to examine and develop a plan to clean up air pollution in the Oceano Dunes, according to a press release from the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (SLOAPCD) on Friday.
In August 2010, the SLOAPCD , San Luis Obispo County and the California Department of State Parks and Recreation entered into the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that says that officials from each party agree to form two committees responsible for developing a plan to reduce pollution in the Nipomo Mesa area.
The Brown Act, passed in 1953 because of mounting concerns that government bodies were avoiding scrutiny by meeting secretly, guarantees the public the right to attend and participate in meetings of legislative bodies.
In the case of the Technical Advisory Committee and the Management Oversight Committee, the oversight committee chair and head of the SLOAPCD Larry Allen and the SLOAPCD’s attorney Ray Biering determined the committees did not have to comply with the Brown Act.
Last month, one of the state’s leading authorities on open meeting laws warned the Management Oversight Committee that it needed allow the public access to its meetings as required by law or face litigation.
“It is surprising that the parties or their attorneys believe that a multimember body created by a legislative body can be exempted from the Brown Act’s requirements by use of the term “ad hoc,” said Terry Francke, the director of CalAware and arguably the foremost authority on the Brown Act.
“Those responsible to comply with the law may wish to spare themselves some embarrassment and spare the taxpayers the obligation to pay our attorney’s fees,” Francke said in a letter delivered by Kevin Rice on January 18 giving the committee 30 days to comply to the Brown Act or face litigation.
Then, one day shy of a month after Rice’s demand, the SLOAPCD sent the press release that says “the MOA has accomplished its primary goal of bringing the three entities together to cooperatively address the issue, a more expeditious approach is now needed to ensure the process continues to move forward in a timely manner.”
However, the stated goal of the MOA is to identify and test strategies to reduce air pollution, identify responsible parties and sources of funding for a particulate matter reduction plan, according to the agreement. Nowhere in the agreement is it stated that a goal of the MOA is to bring the three parties together.
The MOA and its committees are under contract to continue for a period of no more than two years after the development of a particulate matter reduction plan, something the committee did not accomplish. Any of the parties can request to terminate the agreement if, “despite the best efforts of the parties, the intended purpose of the MOA is not being achieved as envisioned.”
In order to terminate, a detailed explanation must be sent to the other parties which enacts a 60 day examination period prior to disbandment, according to the agreement.
In another twist, even though both the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and the SLOAPCD both held closed session to discuss anticipated litigation following Rice’s threat, neither claimed to have taken any action as required by the Brown Act if an action is agreed upon by the board’s members.
Even so, the SLOAPCD press release says that the parties have agreed to terminate their agreement and replace it with a “streamlined process.”
“What this shows is that air district’s director, Larry Allen, does not want to have open meetings,” Rice said. “Now that it has been recognized that these meetings were illegally held, instead of holding meetings openly, he has chosen to dissolve the committees so he can conduct his work without public scrutiny.”