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    Speak Up, Council: Don't Be Cowed By Sacred Cows

    (June 17, 2003) -- There's a therapeutic remedy for much of the sniping and whining that's accompanied some of the Mayor's appointees to various City Hall commissions.

    Councilmembers should respect the law, ask intelligent questions...and if the appointees' answers don't satisfy them, respectfully vote no.

    The Mayor and her appointees are not to blame for what Councilmembers fail to do. If Councilmembers are cowed by sacred cows, they reduce themselves to shoveling sacred bull----.

    Some in this town may like Councilmembers who do that...perhaps because they are comfortable doing that themselves. For years, City Hall has obstructed the public's right to know whom the Mayor has appointed to run public bodies that will do the public's business on the Planning Commission, Harbor Commission, Redevelopment Agency Board, after the Mayor has sent their names to the Council Personnel & Civil Service Committee that first hears them...and until that body opens its hearing. That blindsides the public...again.

    In the past, there was no Now there is, and we object.

    Councilmembers, if anyone expects you to keep those names quiet until that Council committee opens its hearing, you must disappoint them. The CA Brown Act and the CA Public Records Act specify that when a majority of a Council committee or the Council are given written materials in connection with a publicly agendized item, the public has a right to see them promptly. Once the Mayor hands you those names and supporting materials, they're not "her" names anymore. They are the public's.

    And more fundamentally, once the appointees are out of the Mayor's hands, they're in your hands as the legislative body confirming them. We don't know of any respectable state or federal legislative body that would confirm appointees to major office without asking serious questions on serious issues.

    We can think of a few:

    • Last month, Councilman Val Lerch courageously asked a long overdue question. Our paraphrase: Why should we uncritically continue to assume that Port growth benefits the people who actually live in this city despite the costly and harmful negative impacts? As reported in an exclusive in-depth piece, Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal said Councilman Lerch basically asked a fair question...and a good one. We say Councilmembers should ask an overdue question: will the Mayor's Harbor Commission nominees support a moratorium on further Port growth until the Port delivers a plan, concurred in by the Council, that will produce a significant net decrease in the current level of Port-related pollution after further growth? (That's a yes or no question.) The Port -- an agency of this city -- has helped created a regional Brownfield. Worsening that is not tolerable or inevitable...and the confirmation of the Mayor's Harbor appointees shouldn't be tolerable or inevitable if they don't have a good answer to that question.

    • Do the proposed Harbor Commissioners believe the Port should pursue its own legislative agenda, even if it's different from the policy of the City Council? Last year, the Port put itself on a collision course with the Council over Port pollution legislation. Will the appointees you're being asked to confirm commit to letting the elected City Council set a unified city policy?

    • Do the Mayor's Redevelopment Agency Board appointees favor a merger of the redevelopment project areas?

    • Do the Mayor's Planning Commission appointees favor increased residential density, and if so, where?

    We believe a well-governed city does not have a code of silence on these and other fair questions. Councilmembers should ask them..and get responsive answers. It's the Council's job...and the public's right to know.

    Otherwise, there's always that shovel.

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