A Crack in City Hall secrecy

Judge slams L.A.'s efforts to obscure key environmental issues from public

Of all the grievances Los Angeles community groups have against City Hall, the one cited most often is the lack of transparency.

A Hollywood community group challenged one aspect of this policy of government by secrecy when it sued to force the City Planning Commission to spell out in detail issues that come before it that involve the California Environmental Quality Act -- often issues with the greatest impact on the quality of life in the neighborhoods.

Unlike how it  describes other issues on its agendas, the commission merely states things like ENV-2007-2939-MND when environmental issues are coming up.

Just two weeks ago, the City Council went into closed session with its City Attorney adviser and came out and unanimously refused to settle the case and comply with the state open government law, the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe laughed the city out of court on Monday.

"The evidence before the court, which is uncontradicted, shows that the City Planning Commission of the City of Los Angeles repeatedly posted agendas of its meetings during the year 2007 that clearly disclosed each action that it intended to take or to discuss at a meeting except actions to be taken or considered under (CEQA)," Yaffe wrote in his opinion, notiing that only file numbers appear on the agenda on environmental issues.

"Such cryptic references are meaningless to most members of the public and do not in any way describe the particular action to be taken...such descriptions not only violate the Ralph M. Brown Act, they also violate the fundamental purpose of CEQA."

Even more  than the importance of his order that the city comply with the law is the reaction among community groups that now feel emboldened to expand the use of the courts and political action to force changes at City Hall.

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