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Archived: Editorial: Public’s Right to Know Under Attack

The public’s right to know is under serious attack.

Public notice advertising in newspapers has always been a nuisance as far as many government agencies are concerned. It not only costs the agencies money, it also alerts the public to what government is doing and how it is spending taxpayer dollars.

For some public entities, this is inconvenient. They prefer that residents not know or have a say on some of the very projects that will impact their quality of life. They don’t want to publicize CEQA reports and studies, or information about scoping meetings or Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), or contacting opportunities for that matter.

So now that city, state, county and other local and state government entities find themselves in financial straits, they are quick to point to doing away with public notice advertising as a way to cut costs, even though the cost is probably the smallest item in most budgets.

Assemblywoman Anna Marie Caballero (D-Salinas) has proposed a bill, AB 715, to give city clerks and soon county clerks, the discretion to post newly enacted ordinances on the agency’s web site instead of publishing a summary of the ordinance in a newspaper of general circulation.
According to the City Clerks Association, which is sponsoring the bill, the average annual cost to a city to publish this basic information is only $5,736.

We wonder how many members of the public know this bill is being proposed, not many we believe.
In the interest of full disclosure, this newspaper does receive revenue from public notice advertising. For many of our readers, the public notices are how they learn about developments in their local community.

If this change is adopted, the public will have to work even harder to stay informed about what its elected officials are doing, and how government is spending their money. They will be forced to search through a long list of web sites to glean information on everything from street closures, to new zoning ordinances, fire restrictions and new fees on public services, to the development of hillsides, construction of schools, freeways, power plants, or other developments that call for the taking of homes and businesses.

The days when only a few big businesses and developers had access to information on contract opportunities will return. Transparency will be diminished, particularly in communities with the fewest resources.

We therefore urge members of the public to contact the Senate Committee on Local Government to protest the effort to curtail the “Public’s Right to Know” before June 17, 2009, when the bill is scheduled to move forward. Contact:

Chairwoman Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa)
California State Senate
State Capital, Room 4081
Sacramento, CA 95814 or call (916) 651-4002

Vice Chairman Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks)
California State Senate
State Capital, Room 2068
Sacramento, CA 95814 or call (916) 651-4001