San Jose touts its “sunshine laws” promoting transparency and access to public information as some of the strongest in the state. But in light of the coronavirus outbreak, local leaders have relaxed some of its guidelines.
Under California’s Brown Act, local governments must post meeting agendas and other relevant information 72 hours in advance of a meeting. In San Jose, the sunshine policy errs on the side of transparency, requiring agendas to post 10 days before a meeting.
As information about the pandemic rapidly changes, city staff asked to default to the state’s decree of posting just 72 hours ahead of time. The recommendation, which came before the City Council Tuesday, was met with push back.
“I’ll be blunt,” Councilwoman Maya Esparza said. “I certainly can’t support something that is a blanket exemption that could go on for months, and I’m looking for some guardrails and some guidance that would provide more specificity around [what] would or would not be posted 72 hours in advance.”
City Manager Dave Sykes assured Esparza and the rest of the council that it was their intention to continue complying with the Brown Act.
“I think what the goal here was we don’t want those provisions to inhibit our ability to get information out and so that we can still proceed with the item if necessary,” Sykes said referring to the weekly—and ever-changing—coronavirus briefings.
Instead of the blanket approach, Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed a temporary tweak, limiting the 72-hour standard to items related to the public health emergency.
“We’re doing our very darnedest to keep our doors open to the community,” he said. “I wanted everyone to be aware that this is a hard thing for everyone to manage right now. I think none of the city’s have really figured it all out.”
David Snyder, executive director at the First Amendment Coalition, told San Jose Inside that government transparency is more important now than ever.
“People need to be able to trust in the decisions their governments are making,” he said. “That kind of trust is absolutely crucial to protect all of us in this kind of a crisis.”