The lack of transparency of our state and San Luis Obispo governments

June 7, 2020
T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee


Former mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff to president Obama, Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” By exploiting the chaos presented by the coronavirus crisis, our state legislature in Sacramento and our own San Luis Obispo City Council are doubling down on that statement.

In Sacramento

Legislators are pushing a flurry of wrongheaded housing bills that are targeting established single-family neighborhoods throughout every city and county in California as the new frontier for high density development. With this legislative session foreshortened by the state’s response to the coronavirus, the hearings on these bills are coming on fast and furious while offering minimal opportunity for the public to weigh in on these bills, understand what they really mean, and who the winners and losers if they become law.

One thing is clear: the sponsors behind this legislation are the real estate development, financial investment, and high-tech high-employment industry lobbies who have a firm grasp on our state Legislature. It’s also clear that many of these bills are the wrong solution to the wrong problem. We don’t have a housing production crisis, we have a housing affordability crisis and these bills are doing too little to address the crux of this issue.

Nonetheless, with restrictions being enforced on public participation during these legislative hearings, the public is prevented from attending the sessions while being limited to making 30 second phone calls on these bills, and the staff reports analyzing new legislation aren’t being published until two days before the hearings.

For example, the State Senate Appropriations Committee will be holding a hearing on all of this legislation on June 9. Yet, the staff reports analyzing the financial impacts of these bills was not available until June 6. How can the public, let alone the legislators themselves, begin to read and comprehend the purpose and consequences–both intended and unintended–of this legislation? So much for transparency!

Sacramento journalist Dan Walters recently wrote in Cal Matters magazine about the attempts of the state legislature to undo Proposition 54, an initiative written in part by our own former State Sen. Sam Blakeslee that was enacted by voters in 2016, that required more transparency in how the Legislature goes about its business. Democratic legislators hated Proposition 54, but the voters enacted it over their objection.

Fast forward to 2020, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 25 has been introduced to gut the transparency provisions enacted by Proposition 54. Between this push and Gavin Newsom’s executive order issued earlier this year to suspend the Brown Act, who knows what’s going on behind closed doors? Transparency is missing in action, replaced by a legislative process that is becoming utterly opaque.

In San Luis Obispo

The same thing is happening right here in SLO Town. Our mayor and City Council are seizing the coronavirus crisis to enact an ordinance against the use of natural gas. This is yet another attempt by the so-called Progressive majority on the San Luis Obispo City Council that would have us live the way they want us to live rather than the way we choose to live.

With the lockdown and the emergency actions taken by the city to prohibit people from attending council meetings, the city had originally scheduled a hearing on this ordinance in mid-July 2020 when much of the lockdown is expected to be lifted.

But what does the city do? Never letting a good crisis go to waste, it announces that the council will hear the ordinance on June 16, 2020 when the restrictions on public attendance at city hearings will still be in place.

So much for open government. The council should hold this hearing in abeyance until the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted so the public can attend this important public hearing. To do anything less would be nothing more than a charade, a sham against transparency in our local governance, and an attempt to limit our freedom of speech.

All this is evidence that our state and local government has clearly lost its way.

T. Keith Gurnee is a member of the Board of Directors of Livable California, a nonprofit organization of more than 10,000 members that advocates for equitable, livable communities, and truly affordable housing in California.


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High density housing might be great for making money but it’s not so great when you want to slow a pandemic virus from spreading.


The common denominator is Agenda 21. Did you know that the mayor of Chicago stated on camera that she was looking to fill agencies with deputies “pledging allegiance to the new world order”? One has to wonder — if that is happening in Chicago, then why not elsewhere?

George Garrigues

I agree with the writer in general, but here’s more:

A legislative body may hold an emergency meeting without complying with either the 72-hour notice and agenda requirement of regular meetings or the 24-hour notice and agenda requirement of special meetings. (Gov. Code, § 54956.5 subd. (b)(1).)

Although the 72 hours’ or 24 hours’ notice is not necessary, the legislative body President or designee should notify each local newspaper of general circulation and radio or television station that has requested notice of special meetings one hour prior to the emergency meeting. In the case of a dire emergency, the legislative body President or designee should provide this notice at or near the time they notify the legislative body members of the emergency meeting. (Gov. Code, § 54956.5 subd. (b)(2).)

The legislative body President or designee should provide this notice by telephone and attempt to provide notice using all telephone numbers provided in the media’s written request. If telephones are not working, the notice requirements do not apply. However, the agency must notify the news media as soon as possible of the holding of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, and any action taken. (Gov. Code, § 54956.5 subd. (b)(2).)

If news media does not have a written request on file for notification of special or emergency meetings, a legislative body has no legal obligation to notify news media of special or emergency meetings— but consider providing that notice anyway to promote communication and trust in your agency.

After the meeting

As soon as possible after the emergency meeting, the legislative body must post the minutes of the meeting, a list of persons whom the body notified or attempted to notify, a copy of the roll call vote, and any actions taken at the meeting. This information must remain posted for at least 10 days in a public place. (Gov. Code, § 54956.5 subd. (e).)

3. How do you convene an emergency meeting?

When a majority of the legislative body determines that an emergency exists, it may call an emergency meeting. (Gov. Code, § 54956.5.) Thus, the first order of business at an emergency meeting must be declaration of an emergency. The vote must be by a majority of the entire legislative body, not just a majority of those present.

4. What may the legislative body discuss and decide at an emergency meeting?

Agencies should limit the business considered at an emergency meeting to items requiring prompt attention due to the emergency. Further, while a legislative body is relieved of the responsibility to post an agenda prior to an emergency meeting, the agency must still have an agenda for the meeting. A legislative body may not take action on items of business not appearing on the agenda. (Gov. Code, §§ 54956; 54956.5 subd. (d).) Finally, as a rule, a legislative body may not hold a closed session at an emergency meeting. However, the legislative body may meet in closed session, where appropriate under the Brown Act, on a two-thirds vote of the members of the legislative body present, or, if less than two-thirds of the members are present, by a unanimous vote of the members present. (Gov. Code, § 54956.5 subd. (c).)


I got this from the internet, so it must be true. Heh-heh.

Jon Tatro

Well said Keith, the job of local governments is to protect the way of life of those in the community they represent, not future possible inhabitants. Paso Council has this same-short sided outlook with over development.


please don’t re-elect these freaks


These cowards on the council are afraid to meet the public in person, but have no problem attending protests.


This is written tongue-in-cheek, right? Wasn’t this the same writer who argued, just a week or two ago, about how the Trump administration has been doing such a great job? The same administration that has blocked all congressional oversight into the executive branch’s actions.

Even though the Constitution requires it, the administration has shrugged off requests on virtually every issue and has denied documents and blocked officials from testifying. Even today, the administration is using law enforcement that wears unmarked uniforms to protect the White House. Talk about lack of transparency. I could probably agree with this writer if he wasn’t so obviously hypocritical.


Hypocritical? Let’s see – the Dems want Trumps taxes so they can determine if the tax laws are working properly, they claim. That’s total hypocritical BS! The IRS audits him and his companies yearly. They don’t think the IRS is capable of finding the “tax problems”? Maybe they should try weaponizing the IRS again like Obama did. Everything the DEMs claim is “oversight“ is really just politically driven games.


I never mentioned Trump’s taxes. I could care less about them—all they will reveal is that he is heavily leveraged, that the majority of his properties are losing money and that he is nowhere near as rich as he touts. Still, every presidential candidate in my lifetime (and I just turned 73 last week) has released their returns—and I’m guessing that Kennedy and both Bushes were more wealthy than Trump.

But a functioning democracy cannot go without oversight. Trump admin officials should have to provide information about putting children in cages, allowing coal companies to dump toxic waste into public waterways and why Congressionally authorized money did not reach the Ukraine in a timely fashion.

To date, the Trump administration has dodged almost all Congressional oversight. If Congress cannot question the people who are putting forth a policy or procure important documents, Congress cannot operate as a coequal branch of government. In fact, Congress is actually mentioned in Article I of the Constitution, which means the framers saw them as more important than the president.

If Congress cannot get information about the executive branch, the separation of powers which is guaranteed by the Constitution is null and void. Is that really what you want? A dictator who is above any law? Isn’t that exactly what this OpEd writer is arguing against, saying that local and state governments should have to answer to the people? Why shouldn’t the executive branch of the federal government be under the same edict?


Oh right, the problems in SLO are all Trump’s fault.

Get a grip man, Trump won the 2016 election, with no collusion or cheating, etc. He got the most electoral votes. So I get you don’t approve of him but hang in there a few more months, you can vote him out.

Just get a grip.


I think it’s a great idea to pack people in as close as possible. What could go wrong?


Most people in politics are scheming low lifes. They are only out for their own interests ($) or to promote and advance their personal causes and viewpoints. And they’ll take advantage of ANY situation and pull ANY political trick they think they can get away with, to do so.

George Garrigues

Interesting. So give up representative democracy? I’m not sure what your solution is. Thanks for commenting, though.