Letter to the Editor: Santa Clara Should Face Consequences for CPRA Non-Compliance

San Jose Inside,

When I first filed a complaint with the Santa Clara County Civil Grand to investigate the city of Santa Clara’s contracting practices, I did it for journalists, residents, watchdogs, and to prove that things are broken. I want to thank the grand jury for their thorough report but I feel it lacks consequences and repercussions. 

The current administration hangs its hat on transparency and attacks Levi’s Stadium management for not presenting documents. In light of this grand jury report, that’s like the pot calling the kettle black. It’s like the blind leading the blind. It shows that management in the city and the stadium need to be replaced.

Our city needs a fresh start. 

Transparency is key in government and I am embarrassed that Santa Clara has failed to deliver—let alone follow orders from the civil grand jury. It shows blatant disregard for the law. This investigation, the lack of cooperation from the city and PR flak Sam Singer declining to be interviewed make me believe that there’s enough smoke to suggest a fire.

The lack of compliance begs the question of who really is running the city and whether, behind the scenes, it’s in major disorder. I hope this step toward accountability is just the beginning—not only for Santa Clara but other cities as well. 

There need to be solutions to fix these problems. First, where is the accountability? Second, what are the consequences? The city’s response is an insult and a direct lie.

With that, I believe we should call for the resignation of City Manager Deanna Santana, who has a checkered history—both locally and with other cities. Her management should have been more responsive and transparent with the civil grand jury.

I also call for the resignation of the public records manager for failing to modernize the process and respond in a reasonable time frame to jurors’ requests.

It is time to fix the failures and time to turn a new leaf. 

Sincerely,

Anthony Becker

16 Comments

  1. The fees for copying are also unreasonable. It is hard to get records and have 12.59 left over for a Taco Bell meal for two people.

  2. I rarely agree with the opinion pieces here, but this one is a welcome exception.

    From the article:

    The lack of compliance begs the question of who really is running the city…

    The City Manager is running the city! What, did you think it was the Mayor and Council?

    Some cities have City Managers, while others don’t. The main difference is that the cities that don’t have a City Manager save a lot of money. Other than that, there’s not much difference.

    As it happens, Santa Clara and San Jose both have City Managers.

    The electeds in those cities apparently think they’re just supposed to kiss babies, attend barbecues, schmooze with the Niners honchos, and campaign 24/7 for re-election. In both San Jose and Santa Clara, running for re-election is their biggest job.

    The biggest job of the City Manager is to take the hit when something goes wrong. Then the Mayor and Councilcritters can say, “Harrumph! We shall dump that bad City Manager, for allowing things to get so out of hand, while we weren’t watching.”

    Then the City Manager is summarily fired — and the next City Manager steps into that lucrative position to be their next whipping boy or gal, while the one who took the hit moves on to the next fat CM paycheck. Then that city will shovel a similar pile of taxpayer loot into her bank account so she can perform her primary job duty: insulating their electeds from the voters.

    It used to be that the Mayor and City Council were elected to run their city in the best interests of the residents. What happened?

    In Santa Clara and San Jose, the electeds hired a City Manager to do what they were supposed to do. But the City Manager doesn’t answer to the voters, she answers only to the Mayor and Council that hired her. She is their employee, not the taxpayers’. It’s a sweet deal all around — except for the city’s taxpayers (AKA: the chumps).

    Since the Mayor and Council won’t do what they were elected to do, they could hire a competent, retired business executive to do the City Manager’s job for less than half her pay (CM Santana gets more than $400,000 a year in pay and benefits!)

    And the City Manager has Assistant City Managers, presumably to assist her. They also get hefty paychecks, courtesy of the same chumps… I mean, the same taxpayers.

    So we pay for what the Mayor and Councilcritters were elected to do, just because a long time ago some electeds heard that they could hire someone else to do their jobs, while they finagle free 49ers tickets, mismanage the Levi’s Stadium deal, and shoot the breeze down at City Hall.

    On the other hand, Santa Clara’s electeds aren’t overpaid like San Jose’s Mayor and Council, and they don’t collect pensions like SJ’s electeds. So at least there’s that…

    • Sorry to burst your bubble Smokey, they DO get pensions! They voted to give it themselves quite awhile ago … And they get healthcare too.

    • WHAT?? The City Manager get paid a lot of money AND has assistants?? Someone re-convene
      the grand jury asap!

  3. The law specifically states that the records be made available for “public inspection” — why are they never, ever available to actually be inspected? Instead City Staff gets to cherry pick what they want the requester to get (and not even see them all, ever!) … How is that transparent? Why can’t the public just see the whole file? We have a right to see it all and then determine what we want copies of … it is a sham for them to look over them and then share only what they what us to see! That has got to stop! Inspect means inspect! It does not mean they get to hide the paperwork from us … exactly WHAT are they hiding anyway???

    Let’s hope the Grand Jury requires the.City of Santa Clara to finally give us unencumbered access to our own records … it’s our city, and our documents created with our money that was paid with our taxes. It doesn’t seem that there should be a single reason why we can’t just look at any (and every) file and document we want to see at any time.

    Thanks, Mr. Becker for trying to pry this rat hole open … many have been trying for decades to gain access to our own records via CPRA requests, maybe you have discovered the golden pry bar and will succeed on behalf of all of us. CIty Staff and City Officials have been pulling these shenanigans for way too long … and the latest City Manager is now the worst ever and is even violating and ignoring the City Charter to “do it her way” too.

    Santa Clara has fallen to the lowest its ever been … too bad and oh, so sad. Things have got to be forensically-audited by someone selected and supervised by a truly independent agency … like the Grand Jury. Grand Jury how about It? San Jose Inside, can you help too?

    • If the PROCESS is broken, why is Mr. Becker attacking the CITY EMPLOYEE’s, Mr Becker is clearly trying to sway the voters and grand jury instead of caring about the very same thing THE PEOPLE is supposed keeps mentioning. This reeks of politic motivation.

  4. Mr. Becker thank you! Our team has been requesting records in this county under CPRA for the past five years. Records responses have been flagrantly unlawful. Technology being implemented only serves to compound the problem. Add a DA who refuses to investigate public corruption, or comply with California’s Public Records Act, and it is a formula for a disaster in our local democracy.

    A 526( a) taxpayer lawsuit was filed against multiple entitled in our county for their informal policies and practices when it comes to public records. See Google Scholar link to the case here: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6956156539604379798&q=Naymark&hl=en&as_sdt=4,5

    In the state of Washington, non- compliance gets agencies fined. The Seattle Times once got $500,000 after a county agency ignored their request.

    Santa Clara is bad, but not the worst. Here are some highlights from the responses we received, or that were addressed in the media:

    1. Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen won’t produce records under BPC 6101 ( Right to Know if Lawyers have committed crimes)

    2. Santa Clara County redacted emails between Jeff Rosen and Stanford University professor Michele Dauber and would not give the legal reason for doing so.

    3. San Jose coughed up records on the tax payer lawsuit, after the legal deadline, but never coughed up how much the lawsuit cost taxpayers.

    4. Multiple school boards, not in compliance. Most just ignore requests.

    5. Records on county and city lawyers and executives- Lisa Herrick, Ann Ravel, James Williams, Orry Korb, Jeff Smith – just ignored.

    6. Over 5000 emails of county Accessor Larry Stone were produced, but were sorely lacking records known to exist.

    7. FAVORITE: Records that showed the invoices from Scott’s Seafood where the county Supervisors dined on crab cakes with their family and friends, as a local rape victim was told the most the county could afford to give her was $250 in cash support.

    Informal policies have been put in place that assure the destruction of public records, including emails after two years.

    Few individuals know that in lieu of a records request the public and the press have a right to access and inspect records at any time during normal business hours ( Remember Erin Brockovich copying the records at PG&E!)

    Records are being buried in fancy computer systems and data dictionaries that conceal records forever. If you don’t use the magic words, overpaid lawyers review your request and give made up reasons to not produce the records the public is legally entitled to see.

    The county should be investing in assuring the public’s right to know, not lawyers who are paid to keep secrets. Sadly county agencies don’t appear to worry about the Grand Jury. The 2016- 2017 reports on our local courts have essentially been ignored by DA Jeff Rosen, Cindy Chavez, Dave Cortese, Mike Wasserman and Joe Simitian. Susan Ellenburg isn’t exactly off to a great start in the area of transparency during her first six months on the job.

    Thank you Mr. Becker and Santa Clara County Grand Jurors! This is an important issue and time to address it all around the county, not just in the city of Santa Clara.

    • > A 526( a) taxpayer lawsuit was filed against multiple entitled in our county for their informal policies and practices when it comes to public records.

      Maybe this just makes things worse.

      I’m not second guessing your approach. I fully agree that lack of government transparency is an outrage and allows the scoundrels to get away with their dirty dealings.

      I’m just observing that one of the dirtiest, sneakiest tricks of the trade among the government insider gang is the always useful “ongoing investigation”.

      “We can’t give you the information you’ve requested because there’s an ‘ongoing investigation'”

      “What? You’ve just sued us to provide access to records you’ve requested? We’ve opened an investigation and now we CAN’T give you the records because . . there’s an . . . ONGOING INVESTIGATION!!!”

      “YOU’RE SCREWED”

      Just name any instance of potential government malfeasance or misfeasance and try to get some public records, and the roadblock is always the same. We can’t give you that investigation because there’s ONGOING INVESTIGATION related to ONGOING LITIGATION!

      Police reports and public records relating to the CIty of San Jose and SJPD botch of the Donald Trump rally THREE YEARS ago? Ongoing litigation.

      Police records related to the murder of Bambi Larson by a sanctuary city protected criminal illegal alien? Can’t have ’em.
      ONGOING INVESTIGATION!

      Safety of bicycle lanes? Sam Liccardo’s culpability in a bicycle accident on city streets? TOP SECRET! YOU CAN’T SEE THAT! GET OUT OF HERE!

      California is a one-party satrapy. State and local governments, the Democratic Party, and the establishment media have fused into one giant blob of opaqueness. “Outsiders” are not allowed to know anything real.

      And when people SPECULATE on what MIGHT be happening, the satraps demean and denounce the ignorant uninformed masses as IGNORANT UNINFORMED MASSES because they don’t know anything.

      I cannot think of any institutional solution to the closed information society that the Capital of Silicon Valley and the Vatican of Social Media has become.

      I can only observe that the former Soviet Union achieved nearly the same level of information hygiene only to undergo calamitous collapse because no one believed anything any more.

      A functioning civilization has to know REAL stuff in order to be able to believe real stuff.

  5. Employees such as the Public Records Manager should not be punished or blamed for an existing predicament; there’s a day of reckoning.

  6. I think the city council should be questioned for hiring a filmmaker, with no expertise in city planning, to be on the planning commission. The Santa Clara Planning Commission is in lock step with ABAG which has led to some horrible planning decisions along the El Camino.

    • Most planning commissioners do not have experience or training in city planning. That’s sort or the point of having a diverse body representing differing interest in the city. And they are not hired (paid), but appointed by Council (volunteer).

  7. we have a general plan for development in this city. Yet the majority of development projects that are presented to tbe City ask for and are granted a planned development zoning designation. planned development (PD) is negotiated planning that tends to consider a specific parcel. this is why we 3 & 4 storey buildings along El Camino. this what you get from candidates who promise to protect the neighborhoods.

  8. Actually Becker whom I have little respect for had some previous experience unlike Biagini who has been a joke since day one.

  9. Becker – Didn’t you just have an unsuccessful run for City Council? Sounds like a whole lot of sour grapes to me.

  10. You are probably right, but before Santa Clare a 109k plus public records manager, a staffer who was paid less than 50k had a 94% rating for records requests. Now Davis, the Peter Principle hire is weeks late with requests.

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