Cure and correct Brown Act violations
Q: Members of my neighborhood were prevented access to meetings that we think should be open. The county board of supervisors passed a resolution to create a technical advisory committee (TAC) to manage a new large-scale commercial solid waste transfer station in this area. This committee is made up of staff members at the city and county level and they have already decided on potential site locations, etc, and oversee a consultant. We have asked to quietly observe these meetings, but have been told by the city and county planners that these are ‘staff meetings’ and that the public is not allowed access. The planners did hold one public workshop with ballots (for weighting the criteria) but said that our ballots would be counted only if we signed them. What recourse do we have and can we insist that the agencies involved start the process over (with public access)?
A: Under Government Code section 54952(b), any “commission, committee, board or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decision making or advisory, charged by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body [such as the Board of Supervisors]” is subject to the public notice and public meeting requirements of the Brown Act.
As for the requirement that the ballots be signed, there is an argument that requirement violated the Brown Act’s prohibition on requiring people to sign in or register in order to attend or address the legislative body during comment period.
As for enforcement, anyone can sue for a determination of whether the Brown Act applies and, if it does, for an order requiring the TAC to comply. Although you don’t have to, it would not hurt to first submit a letter explaining why you believe the TAC is subject to the Brown Act and asking that it comply.
If you want to sue to void some vote (ie, “action”) taken in a meeting you believe was held in violation of the Brown Act, you must take certain steps — such as submitting a written notice of the alleged violation and a demand to cure or correct it. For most alleged violations, the demand letter must be submitted within 90 days of the meeting at issue, the agency then has 30 days to respond and, if it does not cure, you then have only 15 days to file your enforcement lawsuit.