SLO managers accused of intercepting council mail

February 9, 2012

SLO City Manager Katie Lichtig


A San Luis Obispo property owner spoke out on Tuesday about an incident involving mail sent to the City Council members being intercepted, the originals shredded and the correspondence withheld from the city’s elected officials for several days.

At the City Council meeting, Steve Barasch, a SLO resident of 23 years, spoke of his recent attempt to hand deliver five letters marked “personal” to the boxes of City Council members.

Barasch has battled with staff for more than 11 months in an attempt to get code enforcement to deal with a hazardous situation that occurred as the result of a city order to remove a tree on Leff Street next to a rental property he owns. After the tree and its root ball were removed, debris and earth fell into a drainage way where a large open pit now exists.

As a result of the city’s inaction, Farmers Insurance sent a letter to Barasch warning of plans to cancel Barasch’s homeowners insurance if the hazard is not corrected, which in turn could threaten his loan.

“Adjacent to your property, neighboring property and sidewalk is a very dangerous open pit,” the Jan. 24 letter from Farmers Insurance says. “It is alarmingly close to the sidewalk and driveway. Vehicles and pedestrians coming and going on the property are at risk.”

After making multiple calls to city staff asking to have the issue corrected, Barasch attempted to contact council members. Barasch said he handed the letters marked “personal” to the administrative coordinator and asked if they could be placed promptly in the council member’s boxes.

But it seems the letters never quite made it all the way into the Council members’ boxes.

Instead, city staffers read the letters, shredded the originals and the envelopes, and waited until after 5 p.m. two days later before forwarding a copy of the correspondence to the council.

City Attorney J. Christine Dietrick defended the city’s action saying that it is in the public’s interest for city staff to make copies of correspondence regarding city issues because once they are dropped off at city hall they are part of the city record.

“It’s pretty squarely within the definition of a public record…. Therefore the city has an obligation particularly where a correspondence is delivered on an agenda matter to make that agenda distributed to the council and concurrently available to the public,” Dietrick said.

But Barasch and others in the audience remained concerned with the current policy.

“In summary, I think the city needs to review its policies on how to get mail from the constituents to the City Council without any interference whatsoever,” Barasch said. “To that I hope you all can have a discussion of this because I think many of you might be uncomfortable not being able to open your own mail when your constituents want to get information to you.”

SLO resident Leslie Halls worked in the offices of Assemblywoman Carol Hallett and Assemblyman Eric Seastrand for a total of 11 years and said one of her main duties was to open the mail in her bosses’ offices.

“We got about three hundred pieces (of mail) a week,” Halls said. “All the stuff would go to the boss. He would get the original letter back with the letter I was sending, and he signed everything. We never destroyed the mail.”

City manager Katie Lichtig defended the council’s actions.

“The reality is that it saves storage space, it saves trees, it saves expenses, and so this is a longstanding practice that the city has had long before I got here,” Lichtig said. “We do take very seriously our obligation to keep the council informed and transmit in a timely fashion any correspondence that is coming to the office to your attention.”

City Council member Kathy Smith suggested that if constituents want private mail to be received by someone on the council, they should send it to that person’s home address.

Nevertheless, during the past few days city staff has contacted each council member and asked how they would like their mail handled.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council members Smith, Dan Carpenter and Andrew Carter said they prefer to open their own mail.

Councilman John Ashbaugh said he likes staff to open his mail and determine what mail he receives. Mayor Jan Marx remained silent on the issue. At the end of the discussion, the council voted 4-1 to put the issue on a future agenda for more consideration.

Last week, city staff put up a barrier on the street side of the pit to help safeguard the public until construction to correct the hazard is performed.

Meanwhile, city staff discovered the ditch is a blue water drainage way which means it drains into the ocean. As a result, before permits for construction can be issued, the Department of Fish and Game, the Water Quality Board and Flood Management need to sign off on any proposed work.

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This entire issue willl be discussed at the regular San Luis Obispo City Council meeting of May 8, 2012 which will allow open public testimony for anyone interested in preserving individual’s civil liberties of transmitting private mail to elected officials.

It would certainly send a strong message if several members of the public showed up to make their opinions known and actually testified as to their own opinions as to who was intitled to intercept private mailings for the benefit of the public good!

I know this article is more about mail than Steve Barasch’s real estate, but that other news outlet is doing a photo essay on his domicile today. The dangerous gaping hole was not readily apparent in the pix I looked at.

racket, the Barasch’s own some twenty property’s in SLO and the one with the hole is on Leff Street near Santa Rosa. It is a rental not his residence.

This is a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. The City Council DID get the mail. It SHOULD be public records. I suppose 2 days is sort of long, but frankly many bureaucracies work like that.

I agree that these letters should be public record but why in g-d’s name would they destroy the originals??? That makes no sense! Not only is that not “saving trees,” as the city manager lies to say, by having to make photo copies of each letter, it is dangerously close to shredding the constitution itself. If something is addressed to someone else there is no reason why the original letter cannot be delivered as soon as it is received…I challenge anyone to come up with an argument as to why a letter should not be immediately forwarded in its original state to its intended recipient assuming a copy can be made at that time after the counsel person reads it.

Structure, please let your postman know that you no longer require your mail to be delivered immediately and that you would like every letter you receive from your kids, family members, friends and billing institutions to be shredded, typed or hand-written to simulate the original letter and then placed in your mailbox two days after it could have arrived.

See a problem here???

Big F’g what if he’s been here 23 years? I’ve been here more than TWICE as long but I have no more right to City services than the guy who moved here last week.

Barasch and his crazy wife are overspending parasites who think the taxpayers should obliviate their need to actually spend any of their substantial income to maintain their properties. Whaaaaaa!

It is city property, therefore the city should maintain it.

You’re obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed. It’s clear you just dislike the Baraschs as you come off as a crazy sounding brat. OK fine. But if THE CITY digs a gigantic ditch on your property and stops working to fill it for a year, please don’t bitch and scream to the council to take action.

As a long time resident of SLO, I’m offended that you think Mr. Barasch is obligated to perform any action after the city creates a large hole on his property. Not only do I expect my tax dollars to go to cure Mr. Barasch’s problem, I expect them to go towards curing any issues the city creates on my land or my neighbors land.

The procedure for answering mail is stupid and probably initiated by Ken Hampian who along with neutering the City Clerks office, wanted to be in complete control of city hall. I would like to have the original letter from the insurance company printed as I have doubts they would threaten Steve Barasch with termination as he has numerous properties around town, as well as out of town, and is probably one of their preferred customers. If this hole is such a danger, and he is genuinely concerned someone will get hurt, why doesn’t he and the other land owner who pulled out the tree spring for a hundred bucks, go to Miners around the corner and buy some snow fence to put around it. Its been this open pit for eleven months they say?

While the city administration was ruined by the past administration and needs much overhaul, this is a nonsensical matter that should be handled by the property owners even if it is in a city easement.

No. If it is on city property, the city should be responsible.

That’s the answer lets rail against the government but take no personal responsibility for our own community. Now you know why SLO town is losing its luster because of selfish residents.

Expecting the city to maintain it’s property in a safe condition is hardly “railing against the government”, nor is it selfish.

But all of this is a moot point, as I’m sure you’ve already rectified the problem as an example to all of us, being the unselfish person that you are.

First, SLO isn’t losing its luster, its just gaining crazier residents…For case and point, please see your original post.

If Mr. Barasch tried to perform action on the city easement, the city would most likely go after him. Try reading a book or understanding the law rather than shouting blasphemy like a crazy person…

“If a city has an easement, the city has authority to maintain the easement in a way that

protects the city’s property rights while still allowing some use by the property owner.

The easement holder also has the duty to maintain the easement. Roberts v. Friendswood

Dev. Co., 886 S.W.2d 363, 365 (Tex. App.—Houston [1 Dist.] 1994).”

Isn’t Houston in Texas?

catsdad: What makes you think Mr. Barasch didn’t buy some temporary fencing? In fact, he did. Don’t assume and disparage just because it isn’t written in a news article. Yet, some of the area is concrete and it would be impossible to install fencing without cutting holes or shooting bolts into the sidewalk. How far should one proceed on their own, risking a damage bill from the city?

Good for Steve. So he bought temporary fencing, which is what the city would have put up so lets see the letter from the insurance company. I highly doubt they would threaten him with cancellation if the area is fenced off to the public, even if temporarily.

Hey SLORider, went by the property and saw the “temporary fencing” Steve put up. Where’d he steal the two street closure saw horses and the reused Caution tape. No wonder the insurance company wants to cancel him if that’s the best he can do.

Did you see the fake Measure Y signs? Hilarious!

It’s city property. If the city’s inaction would cause Mr. Barasch to lose his homeowner’s insurance and possibly put his loan in jeopardy, I’m glad he used city resources to mitigate the danger to the public and to himself.

He is definitely not going to lose his homeowners insurance, he probably just got his agent to write up some bogus letter. He probably “borrowed” the resources from some private contractor. By the way who is the “city”? Some anonymous entity? No it is you and I and while I to have problems in my that I would like to see solved I attempt to help the staff until they can get the job done. And as far as calling me selfish or any other names I really don’t care what you think of me.

The operative word in your absurd post is “probably”. The remainder I’ve forwarded to grammar girl for analysis.

So in conclusion the citizen gets his homeowners cancelled which sets in place the domino effect & ultimately forces him to pay more premiums than before.

Seriously, who cares? I would assume anything you send to a public office is public record. I bet Mr. Barasch is angry and I don’t blame him but this is not a news story. Now the council has to waste time and discuss how to open mail instead of more pressing issues.