www.montereycountyweekly.com august 31-september 6, 2023 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 17 The Monterey County Weekly’s editorial staff spends a lot of time attending public meetings. There are city councils, planning commissions, zoning administrator hearings, architectural review boards and more. A combination of state laws govern the way various agencies must post agendas and conduct meetings. And such meetings provide a critical opportunity for members of the public to show up, look their government officials in the eye, and tell them what they think. It’s enshrined in the California Constitution, Article I, Section 3: “The people have the right to instruct their representatives, petition government for redress of grievances, and assemble freely to consult for the common good.” Of course, the pandemic changed the way that happens. Public meetings went virtual, and all of a sudden, instead of spending your Tuesday night sitting in a city hall for two minutes of speaking time, you could log onto Zoom from your kitchen with dinner in the oven. Virtual public meetings had the advantage of making it easier for both members of the public and governing members of the agency to participate. The premise of remote public participation is one we should keep. The same idea, however, should not universally apply to the decision-makers who serve on various boards and councils. They should be required to face the constituents they serve. But a series of bills pending in the California Legislature would make it easier for officials to meet remotely into the future. “There are reasons to do that, but the norm should be face-to-face accountability,” says David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, which opposes the relevant bills. “Public officials don’t get to govern via video screen. Permanent government-by-video deprives the public of a basic tool of accountability.” Each of the bills addresses a specific issue, but Loy worries about a broader trend. While he believes (and I agree) that there should be provisions for people who are immunocompromised or have a disability to be able to serve remotely, he also argues that those should be exceptions, not the norm. A few bills are stalled in committee, including Assembly Bill 817 (authored by Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco, D-Los Angeles), which would enable continued teleconferencing. AB 1379 (Assemblymember Diane Papan, D-San Mateo) would make numerous changes to teleconferencing provisions in the Brown Act, which governs local and regional agencies. Meanwhile, three Senate bills are moving forward. SB 537, authored by State Sen. Josh Becker, D-San Mateo, would modify the Brown Act to allow both members of the public and governing members of a multi-jurisdictional agency— think of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, which includes representation from Santa Cruz and Monterey counties—to attend meetings remotely. That bill passed 32-8 on the Senate floor and is now in Assembly committee hearings. SB 411, by State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-San Fernando Valley, would enable ongoing remote participation for neighborhood councils in Los Angeles. SB 544, by State Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, deals with the Bagley-Keene Act, which governs state bodies like the Coastal Commission and Public Utilities Commission. It would require only 50 percent of members to be in-person just 50 percent of the time. Laird tells me that even as he emerges from a period of isolation due to an asymptomatic case of Covid, he plans to amend his bill: “I hear the concerns loud and clear and I will work to address them.” Amendments would include a sunset date of 2025, and a provision that at least half of the members are present 100 percent of the time, not 50 percent. A requirement about cameras being turned on for remote participants is under consideration. “This bill is all about balancing competing values. If you’re a senior or you’re disabled or you live in Crescent City and want to have an option to participate in Sacramento, the choice is participating or not participating,” Laird says. “I am committed to sunshine. I don’t want to be in a position of weakening that at all.” As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s time to apply the lessons learned in a way that maximizes sunshine, rather than weakens it. Sara Rubin is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at sara@mcweekly.com. In the Open Pending legislation threatens basic principles of public meeting rules. By Sara Rubin Wilted Bloom…As summer has finally arrived, Squid’s been out and about trying to get some rays on Squid’s translucent complexion. One place on Squid’s destination list is Lake San Antonio, which is managed by Monterey County Parks and is promoted as a recreational resource to get out in, or on, the water. It’s been a tough stretch of years for enthusiasts wanting to get out on the lake—it barely rained for most of them—but this year, Squid was thinking: Perhaps now is Squid’s chance. Except for the fact there has been an algae bloom. Then Squid got an email from the Monterey County Health Department informing Squid that the algae bloom has abated, and was downgraded from “danger” to “caution.” The email hailed this as “good news,” but also advises visitors to read what “caution” means: Stay away from algae and scum in the water, keep kids away from algae in the water or onshore, and as for fish caught in the lake, read the fine print. Nonetheless, the county’s email says now is the “perfect time” to take advantage of “reduced visitation,” while also extolling that “lab results…showed a significant decrease in toxicity.” Sounds fun! Not Cool School…It’s not just freshwater (see above) that has Squid scratching Squid’s head, but also oceanfront Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. Squid has learned that Stanford University’s Doerr School of Sustainability, which includes Hopkins, is taking money from Big Oil. (Specifically, Squid counts a cool $20 million in 2019 from Shell.) This kind of big giving is part and parcel of what fossil fuel companies do—they pour money into fancy universities and also fund a lot of studies and scientists. In at least some of those cases, the research results show that oil isn’t so bad, and that it’s the way of the future. It’s equivalent to tobacco companies funding lung cancer research. Meanwhile, Maui burned a few weeks ago in the deadliest wildfire in modern American history. What also makes Squid hot, aside from the dystopian flavor of it all, is when highfalutin institutions like Stanford go against what science tells us, and for no other purpose than to bring money in the door. Squid is a sea creature, and has seen Squid’s habitat slowly transform over the years due to climate change, but here’s the thing—humans have seen it, too. In fact, a study published in the 1990s based on observations taken off the Hopkins Marine Station’s shore—a place that’s been monitored since 1919— was the first-ever paper to reveal the degradation of marine ecosystems due to climate change. Squid’s colleague reached out to the Doerr School for comment, but did not hear back. the local spin SQUID FRY THE MISSION OF MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY IS TO INSPIRE INDEPENDENT THINKING AND CONSCIOUS ACTION, ETC. “Public officials don’t get to govern via videoscreen.” Send Squid a tip: squid@mcweekly.com