MOORLACH UPDATE — Only Opposition Vote — August 11, 2016

The Senate Judiciary Committee, where I serve as Vice Chair, addressed AB 2611 on June 21. The bill exempts from disclosure under the California Public Records Act any visual or audio recording of the death of a peace officer killed in the line of duty, unless the disclosure is authorized by the peace officer’s immediate family. I was not supportive of this bill and spoke against it. I was the only one to oppose it. Senator Leno stated that he would see it again in the Senate’s Public Safety Committee, a week later, where he also voted to oppose.

Senator Leno and I have been advocates of more public safety transparency (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Happy Father’s Day — June 19, 2016 june 19, 2016 john moorlach and the links it provides).

Being the only vote in opposition to certain bills is not an easy thing to do. So, when an editorial board recognizes that your lonely vote is actually the right position to take, it makes you feel better and affirms the importance of holding to strong principles. My thanks go to the editorial staff at the LA Daily News and the OC Register for the piece below.

But, wait, that’s not all. The Sacramento Bee has a guest editorial that commends my Floor comments and vote in opposition to SB 1190, which would limit ex parte communications at the California Coastal Commission (see MOORLACH UPDATE — California Coastal Commission — May 24, 2016 may 24, 2016 john moorlach).

I may not be on the winning side of some votes, but we’re getting recognized for taking tough stands on inappropriate and emotionally driven bills.

Body-cam bill runs counter to public interest

Putting body cam bill in focus

AB2611 runs counter to public interest.

Unquestionably, there’s emotional and visceral appeal in legislation that would prohibit the release of a public agency’s recording that depicts the killing of a peace officer in the line of duty unless the officer’s immediate family gives consent.

Unfortunately, the bill amounts to terrible public policy and, in most cases, would not accomplish its desired end.

That end, of course, is to protect the grieving family members of a slain police officer from suffering further anguish from the public’s viewing of their loved one’s death. That is a noble aim.

But in practice, Assembly Bill 2611, by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-San Jose, would work as intended only when footage from a police body-cam or dash-mounted camera was the only recording of an officer’s fatal encounter.

More often, as we’ve seen, the case would be that bystanders with cellphones had recorded the officer’s death, the events leading up to it or the aftermath. In such cases, the police department involved may well want to publicly release its own body-cam or dash recording to show the event in context and to show that the officer had acted appropriately. Then the grieving family, rather than being shielded from the public, would face pressure from the public and perhaps from their loved one’s police department to consent to release of the official footage.

But current law (Government Code Section 6255) allows public agencies and courts to balance the public’s right to access recordings when the particular circumstances warrant release, against the public interest in protecting the privacy of the officer and his or her family. Under that code, police agencies would certainly favor their officer’s family’s privacy over public release, unless there were critical public-interest reasons to release the footage to the public.

That sort of balancing of public interests is the right approach — and it’s already the law. AB 2611 would set a very dangerous precedent of allowing people who are not part of the government to control the public’s access to public records — made by agents and agencies that work for and report to the public, don’t forget. Absolute veto power for families goes against the public interest.

There are other, less important shortcomings in Low’s bill that make it bad legislation. The California Newspaper Publishers Association points out that it’s not clear exactly which relatives count as “immediate family.” The bill doesn’t make clear whether the consent of one family member is sufficient or whether all immediate family members — whoever that might be — must consent. It’s not clear what happens if an agency cannot find any or all immediate family members, or how much time it must spend attempting to do so.

Yet AB 2611 sailed through the Assembly without a no vote. Only Sens. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, have voted no in Senate committees.

If senators won’t stop Low’s bill, Gov. Jerry Brown should refuse to sign this legislation that runs counter to the interests of California’s public and, in most cases, even to the interests of the families of police officers.

Coastal bill restricts talk, and housing, too

Public hearings don’t give developers enough time to fairly present projects to the Coastal Commission. Like coastal housing, ex parte communications are a necessity.

BY JOHN SANTRY

Special to The Bee

We all want to help Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature solve the Golden State’s acute need for more housing. So why would legislators send the governor a bill that makes it even more difficult to build housing – especially in coastal cities?

Yet contrary to The Sacramento Bee’s opinion, “A murky bid to block Coastal Commission transparency” (Editorial, Aug. 7), that’s exactly what Senate Bill 1190 – the California Coastal Commission ex parte communications ban legislation – would do.

SB 1190, which faces a crucial vote Thursday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, would give coastal zone housing applicants no opportunity to communicate directly with coastal commissioners, other than the 15 minutes allotted them at a commission hearing.

Try condensing a planned community, one that has taken years of hard work and compromise between elected and appointed officials, into a 15-minute presentation. It’s unfair to well-intentioned applicants who already face an arcane Coastal Commission system tilted against them.

Housing purveyors seek only a level playing field that allows applicants an equal opportunity to present their projects to – and receive direct feedback from – coastal commissioners. That way, each commissioner can cast a clear, informed vote.

If SB 1190 becomes law, applicants will have to rely solely on staff feedback to learn what commissioners think about their housing plans – feedback sure to be altered and degraded by secondhand communication or bias.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, was right when he told the Los Angeles Times: “Currently, it’s nearly impossible to get a full and adequate hearing without ex parte communications.”

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, in voting against SB 1190 on the Senate floor, stated that this bill is “too restrictive on communications between the public and its government.”

Democrats and Republicans agree: Ex parte communications are a practical avenue for applicants to ensure that projects get a fair Coastal Commission hearing.

I hope that the governor and Legislature will not allow SB 1190 to turn this avenue into a dead end.

John Santry is executive vice president of Shopoff Realty Investments in Irvine.

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